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How to Implement and Evaluate Leading Indicators

Oct 03, 2019

Organizations measure safety performance in many different ways. From total recordableBusinesswoman giving presentation incident rates and audits to training and inspections, safety professionals have many metrics at their disposal to gauge the effectiveness of a safety and health management system and find areas for improvement.

OSHA’s recent guideline, Using Leading Indicators to Improve Safety and Health Outcomes, explores leading indicators as a safety and health metric, and explains how they can help your organization improve performance and create an action plan for implementation and review.  

What Is a Leading Indicator?

The guideline defines leading indicators as “proactive, preventive and predictive measures that provide information about the effective performance of your safety and health activities.” Conversely, lagging indicators “measure the occurrence and frequency of events that occurred in the past, such as the number or rate of injuries, illnesses and fatalities.”

It also notes that while lagging indicators provide insight into where hazards exist or where a system may be lacking, leading indicators foster a more proactive approach to safety and help prevent incidents before they occur. That’s why safety professionals should use leading indicators to institute changes in their processes and lagging indicators to measure effectiveness.

An example offered in the guideline is examining trips and falls as a result of clutter on the floor. In this case, a leading indicator could be daily cleanup to remove any equipment or materials from the floor, with the lagging indicator being the number of trips and falls that occur after the cleanup program is implemented. If the number of trips and falls decreases significantly, the leading indicator has shown to be effective.

What Do I Do Next?

Based on the plan-do-check-act model, the guideline suggests you take the following steps to institute leading indicators and measure their effectiveness.

  1. Choose a leading indicator and set a goal
  2. Communicate with your workers about the indicators and start using them
  3. Periodically reassess your goal and indicator
  4. Respond to what you learn

The guide encourages safety professionals to use the SMART principles when selecting leading indicators to ensure that they are specific, measurable, accountable, reasonable and timely. The guideline also includes an action plan checklist you can utilize as you implement and monitor leading indicators.

Listen to our podcast with Gary Lopez of the ANSI/ASSP Z16 Committee to learn more about how leading indicators can help improve safety and health performance.

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