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10 Safety Terms Your Leaders Should Know

Apr 12, 2022

Safety leader man with glasses and a tie talking outside with a colleagueTalking to organizational leadership about safety concepts can be difficult. It may even feel like you’re speaking different languages.

Terms that are familiar to the average safety professional are not always familiar to the average executive. Worse, leaders may think they have a general understanding of a term, but they are either mistaken or don’t understand the term in a safety and health context.

The good news is many are eager to learn with a little guidance. Here are 10 terms that are important to the safety profession, but which leaders may not know or completely understand.

1. Leading and Lagging Indicators

Leading indicators are a “performance measure that is capable of influencing and/or predicting results and is often aimed at the prevention and control of future events or results," according to the recently revised ANSI/ASSP Z16.1-2022 standard.

Lagging indicators are a “performance measure that represents the consequences of actions previously taken or not taken.” These metrics “frequently focus on results at the end of a time period and characterize historical performance.”

Examples of leading indicators include:

  • The percentage of hazards abated in the same day, week or month the hazard was identified
  • The number of safety inspections completed

Lagging indicator examples include:

2. Risk Assessments

Most leaders will be at least somewhat familiar with this term, but it’s important for them to know what risk assessments entail. We have identified four steps that a risk assessment should include:

  1. The first step is data-gathering, which includes conducting data and work analyses of record-keeping documents, examining the work being performed, how it is being done, and the hazards and risks associated with it.
  2. Set a scope that determines the purpose, context and limitations for the risk assessment plan and mitigation of risks.
  3. Conduct the risk assessment.
  4. Create a treatment plan for addressing and mitigating identified risks and hazards. This also includes communicating changes throughout the organization.

3. Safety Culture

Safety culture is a subset of an organization’s overall culture. In his book “Advanced Safety Management,” author Fred Manuele, P.E., CSP, FASSP, says that safety culture exists when “the governing body and senior management create a system of expected performance in which employees believe, and perform as though, safety is to be achieved in all operations.”

This means that management is not just talking the talk but walking the walk:

  • Safety considerations are part of the organization’s core values.
  • Management does not stop at simply issuing policies, manuals and procedures about safety, but expects employees to follow them.
  • Safety permeates all business decision-making.
  • There is a passion and sense of urgency for safety excellence and all levels of personnel are held accountable for results.

4. Prevention Through Design

Prevention through design means addressing or “designing out” hazards and risks during the design process of tasks, equipment and workflows. The mission of this program, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), is:

  • Eliminating hazards and controlling risks to workers to an acceptable level “at the source” or as early as possible in the life cycle of items or workplaces.
  • Including design, redesign and retrofit of new and existing work premises, structures, tools, facilities, equipment, machinery, products, substances, work processes and the organization of work.
  • Enhancing the work environment through the inclusion of prevention methods in all designs that impact workers and others on the premises.

5. Hierarchy of Controls

The hierarchy of controls is a systematic approach to addressing occupational safety and health challenges. The five-part hierarchy starts with the most effective and preferred method of eliminating and mitigating hazards and moves down to less-effective methods. These are the five concepts in order:

  1. Elimination: Physically remove the hazard.
  2. Substitution: Replace the hazard.
  3. Engineering controls: Isolate people from the hazard.
  4. Administrative controls: Change the way people work.
  5. Personal protective equipment: Protect the worker with PPE.

6. Root-Cause Analysis

A root cause is a fundamental, underlying, system-related reason why an incident occurred. The goal of a root cause analysis is to address systemic failures in order to substantially or completely prevent the same or a similar incident from recurring. These analyses often find several root causes.

It’s important to note to your leaders that a root-cause analysis isn’t just a smart safety tool, it’s a process mandated by both OSHA and the EPA.

7. Psychological Safety

Psychological safety is about cultivating trusting environments where workers feel free to fail, speak their minds and learn from each other. When this happens, an organization’s performance improves, says Amy Edmondson, Ph.D., the Harvard Business School professor who introduced the term.

Creating a psychologically safe culture within an organization reduces psychological hazards so workers are in the best possible state of mind to perform in their roles and feel comfortable speaking up about unsafe conditions or practices.

8. Voluntary Consensus Safety Standards

While most leaders are familiar with the concept of safety regulations where compliance is required by law, they may not be fully aware of the concept or benefits of voluntary consensus safety standards. These are safety standards that organizations choose to implement because of their merit and their incorporation of the latest industry developments and recognized best practices.

When you adopt voluntary safety standards, you can evolve your safety program from a compliance-based cost center into an initiative that improves your organization's performance and overall sustainability.

9. Operational Risk Management

Operational risk management is a continuous process that includes risk assessment, risk decision-making and the implementation of controls, resulting in the acceptance, mitigation or avoidance of risk. There are four principles within operational risk management, as defined by the Department of Defense:

  • Accept risk when benefits outweigh the cost.
  • Accept no unnecessary risk.
  • Anticipate and manage risk by planning.
  • Make risk decisions in the right time at the right level.

Operational risk management accepts that that is impossible to achieve zero risk, and allows organizations to make better decisions by accounting for potential risks.

10. Certified Safety Professional

Finally, we think it’s important your leaders really understand what it takes to become a Certified Safety Professional so they can fully recognize the knowledge and training that underlies the designation. The CSP certification requires:

  • A bachelor’s degree or higher in any field from an accredited institution
  • Four years of safety experience where safety is at least 50% preventative and at a professional level
  • A BCSP credential
  • Passing the CSP exam

CSPs must then recertify every five years. This designation is considered the “gold standard” and achieving it is a recognition worth sharing with leaders.

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