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July 13, 2020

Safety metrics

Leading and lagging indicators used to reduce the cost of risk and improve safety culture

Scott Rief

Comprehensive and successful safety programs utilize metrics to understand how the organization can reduce the frequency and severity of injuries. Safety metrics are broken down into two categories, leading indicators and lagging indicators. OSHA defines leading indicators as preventative, and predictive measures that provide information about the effective performance of safety and health activities. Lagging indicators measure the occurrence and frequency of events that have already taken place. The first is a proactive measure while the latter is reactive. While both are important, I would argue that a proactive approach is more crucial in keeping employees safe, and reducing the overall cost of risk to your organization. 

It can be a daunting task to decide which metrics to focus your efforts on. You might consider starting with data that is already being collected before implementing anything new. For example, you may have employees sign in when attending monthly safety trainings. Since the data is already being collected, it would be an easy task to identify what percentage of employees are attending the training. You might find that only 80 percent of employees are attending safety training consistently. You can then ask what the reason for this might be. Are employees too busy to attend? Do employees understand that training is mandatory? Maybe the trainings are taking place on Friday at the end of the day when employees might be leaving early for the weekend. Understanding the metric can lead to these types of questions and make necessary corrections. In this example, you might find out that Friday afternoon is not the best time for training. Moving the trainings to another day and time will likely produce a higher attendance rate.

Leading indicators should be specific and measurable. The metrics you decide on should also be the ones that can affect the most change, at least to start. Below are some examples of trackable leading indicators that can lead to a positive change in your safety program:

  • Employee perception survey results
  • Employee training completed
  • Number of near miss reports turned in
  • Preventative maintenance tasks completed
  • Safety audits completed and number of findings
  • Safety goals and objectives completed

After you have chosen which indicators will be used, you will need to determine how you will utilize the information. The first step is to set a goal related to each indicator. In the earlier example, only 80 percent of employees were attending training while you may have set a goal of 100 percent. Next, you’ll want to communicate with employees what you are tracking, how you will track it, and the goals that are have set. After collecting data, you must continually measure progress towards the goal and communicate progress with employees. Most importantly, you should respond to what is learn by making any necessary changes in order to see a positive impact.

When utilized correctly, safety metric analysis can be an effective tool in keeping employees safe. Marsh & McLennan Agency has developed a leading indicators implementation checklist that provides a simple approach to developing your plan. If you have specific questions about how your company can leverage leading indicators, contact your local MMA representative.

Helpful Resources

OSHA - “Using Leading indicators to Improve Safety and Health Outcomes”

National Safety Council – “Practical Guide to Leading Indicators”

National Safety Council – “An implementation Guide to Leading Indicators”

National Safety Council – “Elevating EHS Leading Indicators”