The use of leading indicators can be a tool able to make long-lasting and noticeable improvements to health and safety in the workplace.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has recently released revised recommendations for businesses and individuals to properly use leading and lagging indicators to improve workplace safety.

Whether or not your company currently has a safety program, leading indicators can help identify problem areas in the workplace and make meaningful changes to those issues.

What Are Indicators?

Leading indicators measure events leading up to illnesses, injuries and any other form of incident and show potential issues in your current health and safety program. They are proactive, predictive and preventative and measure information about the performance of your health and safety system.

Lagging indicators can be used along with leading indicators and measure the frequency of events that have previously happened like the number of illnesses, fatalities or injuries.

Although lagging indicators are able to alert you to failures in an area of your health and safety program, leading indicators allow you to take action to get rid of hazards prior to incidents.

A well run health and safety program will use leading indicators to create change in the workplace and lagging indicators to test the effectiveness of these changes.

An example of a leading indicator may be the time it takes your company to respond to a hazard report. Decreased response time may show increased safety awareness; whereas an increase in response time may show a lack of care from management.

How Leading and Lagging Indicators Make Your Workplace Safer

Employers who use leading indicators as a tool for achieving safety goals have a sizeable advantage compared to their competitors. By taking steps to prevent injuries, illnesses and incidents, these companies show they are committed to maintaining a safe workplace that places a high value on worker safety.

By evaluating health and safety programs, and putting an emphasis on worker safety, companies may also improve their overall company-wide performance.

Good leading indicators can be measured by the SMART principle. This principle identifies leading indicators which are Specific, Measurable, Accountable, Reasonable, and Timely.

Specific: Does your leading indicator provide specifics for the action that you will take to minimize risk from a hazard or improve a program area?

Measurable: Is your leading indicator presented as a number, rate, or percentage that allows you to track and evaluate clear trends over time?

Accountable: Does your leading indicator track an item that is relevant to your goal?

Reasonable: Can you reasonably achieve the goal that you set for your leading indicator?

Timely: Are you tracking your leading indicator regularly enough to spot meaningful trends from your data within your desired timeframe?

Implementing Leading Indicators

When a company decides to implement leading and lagging indicators into their safety and health policies, there is no one size fits all way to utilize the system. Employers who have newer health and safety programs may use indicators with a focus on starting a more thorough program and companies with older programs might use these systems to more closely monitor their safety targets.

It may also be useful for employers to set a limit on the number of leading indicators they initially utilize, or how many to implement at any single time.

When introducing a health and safety policy which uses leading indicators to improve company safety, it is important to have a set plan in place for implementation.

  • Consider what actions can be taken to address areas of concern. Talk with employees or co-workers about issues and ask for solutions to those issues.
  • Collect data throughout implementation and action. Proper data collection and examination can be the difference between a well implemented safety strategy or a hazardous workplace.
  • Review results. It’s important to collect, organize, and review results following implementation of leading indicators. Assemble results into graphs to be able to decide whether or not there is a positive relationship between your leading indicator and your goals.
  • Remember that as few as one or two leading indicators can make a positive impact in the workplace. It is recommended by OSHA to start as soon as possible and introduce more indicators over time.
  • Identifying top hazard and problem areas is key to a well-running safety plan. In the case of hazards, review injury and incident logs and the results from any previous hazard assessments. Begin changes with the hazards that hold the highest potential of causing harm to workers.
  • Encourage co-workers to talk about areas of concern and bring those concerns forward.
  • Set a list of goals and use your leading indicators to reach those goals. Make an informed decision on what your goal should be and how long it might take to achieve.