Capturing and Using Leading Safety Metrics

Leading Safety Metrics

Safety professionals collect data. It doesn’t make a difference if your focus is general safety, occupational hygiene, or a combination of the two. Performing safety observations, collecting air samples, and contributing data analysis to make inferences on potential hazards are all part of the job. Wouldn’t it be nice if the data could be harnessed to predict the future or at least forecast what was coming up next? Collecting the right data points can help in estimating potential exposures that can then be prioritized to develop an effective elimination or control mechanism. The first step in this process is determining what data to obtain.

There are two categories for data discussed in the business world today: leading and lagging indicators (or metrics). The most often used leading indicators are direct or indirect precursors or latent error traps of a potential incident. Collecting this information provides the opportunity to implement preventative actions before an incident or injury occurs. In coaching sports, managing your team happens as the game unfolds, with the ultimate goal of scoring points. This image can be used to display how safety managers “coach” their team with leading indicators.

Lagging indicators are those that are historic. OSHA recordable, DART rate and EMR (experience modification rates) are like opponent’s points on the scoreboard. At the end of the game, it’s too late to change them.

How do we move forward?

Determine how the data will be collected before doing so. If supervisors or frontline workers are to be recording information, then a simplified mechanism that allows for data gathering and storage with minimal disruption to their workday will aid this process. This also ensures the data is reliable and useable. Supervisors and frontline workers know that their jobs center around the work being done and can easily and understandably get frustrated with time-intensive, administrative tasks.

Pre-determine how large of a sample pool will be effective. Collecting safety observations on a small crew of fewer than five people, three times a day, may not be advantageous. Develop a strategy that ensures crews with the most manpower coupled with higher risk activity are afforded more observations than smaller crews with less at-risk activity.

How should the data be captured and analyzed?

As leading indicators are collected, there must be a plan in place to utilize them beyond the immediate activity. A process simply entailing observation and correction is known as the “whack-a-mole” approach. This does not promote proactive safety as the same things could pop up over and over without there ever being an effective resolution. Can the observations (both positive and negative) be tracked to establish a tendency or trend? In following an action plan to address a trend, can the observations support a positive shift? These questions must be answered to implement an effective, sustainable safety program. A single instance of finding and correcting an issue is merely the first step. Prioritization of addressing the undesired trends is the next logical step.

In addition to crafting a plan to act on the data, the findings and the resolutions must be communicated. It is crucial to provide observers with feedback about the action items that resulted from their observations. In this way, they can understand that their efforts are being heard and acted upon. Coaching observers on what distinguishes quality observations is another vital element to cooperation and enables management to have the confidence to act on the obtained data.

While lagging indicators measure a process by its failures, leading indicators measure a process on its accomplishments. Developing a sound strategy on what is being done to achieve a safer working environment is more effective than hoping and praying that no injuries occur.



Cary comes to the SafetyStratus team as the Vice President of Operations with almost 30 years of experience in several different industries. He began his career in the United States Navy’s nuclear power program. From there he transitioned into the public sector as an Environmental, Health & Safety Manager in the utility industry. After almost thirteen years, he transitioned into the construction sector as a Safety Director at a large, international construction company. Most recently he held the position of Manager of Professional Services at a safety software company, overseeing the customer success, implementation, and process consulting aspects of the services team.

At SafetyStratus, he is focused on helping achieve the company’s vision of “Saving lives and the environment by successfully integrating knowledgeable people, sustainable processes, and unparalleled technology”.

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