EHS Management, Special Topics in Safety Management, Uncategorized

Leading Indicators: A Look into the Future

Cher probably says it best: “If I could turn back time…” In the case of workplace incidents, we’d all like to turn back time. We’d like to turn it back to the time before the incident occurred; before someone was injured, before property was damaged, before a spill occurred.

What are known as lagging indicators – injury rates, fatalities, accidental releases – must be measured and reported. There’s no getting around that, and the measurement and analysis of lagging indicators can be used to track trends and that can be beneficial. But the reality is that they measure what already has happened.

While we can’t turn back time, we can look forward, using leading indicators to create a roadmap to cultural change, rather than relying on the lagging indicators in our rearview mirrors.

Ideally, we would like to prevent the circumstances that led to the event, thereby preventing the event. If that sounds a little bit like magic – a little bit like turning back time – it is, because companies that focus on leading indicators not only reduce injuries and illnesses, they often improve production, reduce costs and end up with more engaged workers.

Several years ago, The Campbell Institute shared a white paper titled, Transforming EHS Performance Measurement through Leading Indicators.” The institute convened a panel of experts to try to define leading indicators and determine their impact on workplace safety and health and operational excellence.

Initially, the members of the panel were asked to name and describe the most utilized leading indicator of EHS performance at their organization. Responses were varied, ranging from safety work order completion rates to employee participation in EHS training, from management engagement metrics to health assessments for employees, from safety observations to near miss reporting. The panelists acknowledged that there were areas where the line between leading and lagging indicators is blurred, such as near-miss incidents and root cause analyses.

A follow-up survey found that participants viewed the issue of leading indicators as important to their organizations and actively used various leading metrics to (a) anticipate, prevent or eliminate risks and losses, (b) monitor and evaluate performance, (c) motivate safe behavior, personal commitment, and continuous improvement, and (d) communicate results to management and workers.

Real-World Results

Relatively few studies have been conducted on the correlation between the use of measures companies can take to keep workers safe on jobsites—leading indicators—and the number of incidents, accidents and injuries that occur—trailing indicators. The empirical evidence did not exist. That’s why Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) created the Safety Performance Report to address this issue.

The 2020 Safety Performance Report addresses the remarkable impact that leading indicator use has on the safety performance of some of ABC’s top-tier members, such as fewer disrupted or lost lives and a safer jobsite regardless of the size of the company. In fact, companies that engage in leading indicator use are, statistically, considerably safer than their peers, according to the report. The 2020 Safety Performance Report documents that the use of proactive safety practices reduced recordable incidents by up to 88 percent at the top-level (Diamond) participating companies, making the best-performing companies 827 percent safer than the industry average.

The Safety Performance Report focuses on the eight core leading indicators ABC feels have the most dramatic impact on safety performance. These include:

Use of personal protective equipment – Having a written PPE policy that is consistently and universally enforced, conducting an annual needs assessment, and continually investing in new equipment leads to a 62 percent reduction in TRIR and a 65 percent reduction in DART rates.

Safety program performance review  A biannual review of safety program performance by executive leadership that evaluates whether the program is producing expected results and identifies opportunities for improvement leads to a 65 percent reduction in TRIR and a 66 percent reduction in DART rates.

“In order to consistently drive safety performance in a positive direction our programs must be perceived and experienced as relevant, effective, and practical,” says Jon Lynch, president, Three Rivers Corp., Midland, Michigan, STEP Diamond. “Frequently assessing safety program results keeps our team focused on areas where information is either not addressed, not retained or not acted on. Appropriate adjustments in program content or delivery can then be made so that we move the student from knowing to understanding, thereby producing higher levels of success.”

Emergency Response/Fire Elimination Plan – A comprehensive fire elimination plan that tiered contractors are contractually bound to follow leads to a 61 percent reduction in TRIR and DART rates.

Taking action on trailing (lagging) indicators  Training personnel to know the meaning and relevance of key safety rates and numbers such as EMR, TRIR and DART leads to a 67 percent reduction in TRIR and a 71 percent reduction in DART rates.

Pre-planning for jobsite safety  Integrating safety pre-planning into the estimating, bid and pre-mobilization phases of a project leads to a 61 percent reduction in TRIR and a 62 percent reduction in DART rates.

“Pre-planning for project safety is imperative to ensure zero harm during any given project. Comprehensive pre-planning is rooted deep within our safety program and culture, including—but not limited to—preconstruction meetings, project specific safety plans, worker hazard analyses, pre-job briefings, job hazard analyses and specialized permits for high-risk work activities,” says Ryan Odendahl, president, Kwest Group LLC, Dublin, Ohio, STEP Diamond and ABC Accredited Quality Contractor.

Task-specific safety process Establishing a process to define the scope of work, analyze hazards, develop and implement hazard control methods, and perform the work within established controls as well as provide feedback and continuous improvement leads to a 65 percent reduction in TRIR and a 66 percent reduction in DART rates.

Supervisor safety meetings  Conducting weekly safety meetings with supervisors and distributing minutes for review leads to a 58 percent reduction in TRIR and a 59 percent reduction in DART rates.

Employee Participation Getting employees actively engaged in safety surveys, hazard reporting, incident investigation, safety instruction, toolbox talks, policy development/auditing, new hire mentoring, committees, job safety analysis development, pre-planning, and other aspects of the safety program leads to a 54 percent reduction in TRIR and a 57 percent reduction in DART rates.

“Leading indicators not only help predict and provide an opportunity to prevent future incidents from occurring, but also contribute to a strong safety culture,” insists J.D. Slaughter, P.E., president, S & B Engineers and Constructors Ltd., Houston, STEP Diamond and ABC Accredited Quality Contractor. “By communicating to your employees what leading indicators you track and why, you gain their buy-in and active participation in your safety and health programs, and more employees that are recognizing hazards and intervening when they observe at-risk conditions or behaviors.”


Jeanna CrockerSandy Smith, Global Content Lead, Intelex Technologies, is an award-winning newspaper reporter and business-to-business journalist who has spent 20+ years researching and writing about EHSQ and networking with EHSQ professionals. To learn more about how to use leading and lagging indicators to measure safety success, join Intelex at EHS Daily Advisor’s EHS Now Summit on June 17th. Click here for more details on the EHS Daily Advisor’s EHS Now Summit on June 17th.