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Leading With Safety and Health Metrics

May 13, 2019

How do you measure success? This is an important question for every profession, andOffice Group Meeting occupational safety and health is no different. Every organization has key performance indicators (KPIs) used to gauge success in achieving goals.

Most OSH professionals would agree that metrics are essential components of effective safety and health management systems as they help them to evaluate, monitor and control injury and illness hazards and ensure that job responsibilities are met. Metrics can also help you assess the effectiveness of risk controls, identify potential injury/illness sources, support progress toward achieving goals and track trends over time.

In terms of workplace safety and health, metrics are generally divided into two categories: leading indicators and lagging indicators. Lagging indicators, also known as outcome indicators, typically examine after-the-fact issues and include data such as OSHA injury and illness statistics. Leading indicators, on the other hand, tend to be measures of prevention and can be predictive or incentivizing. These could include redesigning workflows or installing machine guarding to improve the safety and health of the work environment.

While these metrics examine different types of data, each has advantages and disadvantages. For instance, lagging indicators that examine outcomes are usually better for benchmarking. Leading indicators may make better intervention tools and can be indicators of future performance.

ANSI/ASSP Z16 to Offer Guidance on Metrics

The ANSI/ASSP Z16 standard has a long history in establishing a process to measure and improve safety and health performance. Since the 1960s, with ANSI Z16.1, Method of Recording and Measuring Work Injury Experience, the standard has offered an approach to understanding and assessing the impact of safety and health on an organization and drive business value influence.

From the 1960s through the late 1990s, the Z16 committee developed five standards dedicated to measuring safety and health performance. Thereafter, the committee suspended its activities before reorganizing in 2016 in recognition of the need for standard guidance around safety and health metrics.

Z16 encourages safety professionals and other users to look beyond traditional measures of evaluating performance to examine criteria such as leading and lagging indicators, the dollar value of safety controls and KPIs. It also emphasizes that greater attention needs to be paid to how safety and health performance impact worker well-being, as well as a company’s reputation and financial standing.

“Z16 tries to expand your view as to what constitutes loss and what constitutes metrics within an organization,” says C. Gary Lopez, assistant director at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. and Z16 Committee member. “It’s important to look at the big picture to determine what caused an incident to occur.”

Lopez points to the balanced scorecard as a particular aspect of Z16 that safety professionals and stakeholders should use to improve their safety and health performance. A balanced scorecard aims to provide an accurate picture of an organization’s safety and health initiatives. This involves combining leading indicators with lagging indicators to develop a more comprehensive assessment of safety and health performance and how it can be improved. 

“When you have a leading indicator, you want to have a lagging indicator that measures the success of that leading indicator to demonstrate that you selected the right metric,” he says.

For instance, if a workflow is redesigned as a leading indicator, an accompanying lagging indicator may be the recordable incident rate associated with that workflow to measure the overall success of the redesigned process. In addition to the guidance Z16 provides safety professionals in improving safety and health performance, Lopez emphasizes that it is a powerful tool to demonstrate to their executives the impact that safety has on business performance.

“We need to be able to provide metrics that track the cost of a workplace incident and demonstrate that we’re doing the right thing from a corporate perspective,” he says. “This will allow safety professionals to show, from a financial standpoint, the positive impact of instituting safety controls.”

Furthermore, Lopez stresses the need to engage management in the decision process, and work with them to determine which metrics will be the most valuable in measuring safety and health performance, as well as the impact that safety and health have on the organization as a whole.

“As a profession, we are going to have to learn to sit down with executives and present metrics in a way that demonstrates how they can be used to measure success or failure,” he says. “Engage executives in the process and have them select some of the measurements that will demonstrate success or failure in the organization.”

By taking these steps to employ a broader view of safety and health metrics and engaging management in the process of improving overall performance, Lopez feels that safety professionals can demonstrate their value to the C-suite as positive contributors to their organizations.

“We’re part of the organization and we can help save lives, reduce risk and save money by being contributing members of the business team,” he says.

Publication of an updated edition of Z16.1 is anticipated for 2020.

Listen to our podcast with Gary Lopez of the Z16 Committee for further insights on the Z16.1 standard and using leading and lagging indicators to measure safety performance. 


Related Links

The Role of Leading & Lagging Indicators in Evaluating OSH Professionals’ Performance

Leading Ergonomic Indicators: Their Importance in the American Workplace, Part 1

Leading Ergonomic Indicators: Their Importance in the American Workplace, Part 2

Leading Measures: Preventing MSDs & Driving Ergonomic Improvements

Supervisors as Leading Indicators of Safety Performance

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