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Leading and Lagging Indicators of Safety Performance

Measuring safety performance is integral to the success of every business. Safety, like every other aspect of business, must be measured so that companies can determine their level of performance and whether they are heading in the right direction. A clear understanding of safety performance indicators can raise awareness among management and employees and help them focus attention to areas where it is needed most. In some cases, the indicators can also be used to incentivize employees.

Safety professionals track safety performance under two broad categories: leading indicators and lagging indicators. Lagging indicators are the most common and familiar; they typically measure the organization’s past safety performance. These are the bottom-line numbers that assess the effectiveness of a company’s safety performance. They include incident and accident statistics like OSHA recordable injuries, injury frequency and severity, Days Away, Restricted and Transferred (DART), worker’s compensation costs, etc. They usually tend to focus on the losses a company has incurred. The major drawback to solely using lagging indicators is that they only measure past occurrences or failures, causing companies to be reactive rather than proactive. This makes them a poor gauge of prevention, which can create complacency. A company could look at a low incident and injury rate and think everything is great, when in fact there might be numerous risk factors in the workplace that could lead to future injuries.

Leading indicators, on the other hand, are focused on future safety performance and continuous improvement. They tend to be more proactive and focus on the regular activities that employees are engaged in to prevent injuries and accidents. These include conducting safety audits, attending safety trainings, tracking near-misses, and performing risk assessments of tasks, equipment and machinery maintenance. In the past few decades, many companies that are striving for safety excellence have shifted their focus to using leading indicators to gauge safety performance and drive continuous improvement. At Faith Technologies, we use both leading and lagging indicators to gauge safety performance. However, we primarily focus on leading indicators, because we believe those help us focus on future safety performance and allow us to take more proactive steps in achieving safety excellence.

An analogy used in a Grainger Safety Record white paper describes leading and lagging indicators best. “…leading indicators are like the windshield, and lagging indicators are like the rearview mirror. Both are essential, whether you’re driving a car down the highway or driving your organizations on its safety journey. But you’ll spend more time looking out the windshield to see what’s coming –with leading indicators, than looking in your rearview mirror to see where you’ve been –with lagging indicators. That’s why striking that perfect balance between leading and lagging indicators is important.” What is your company using to measure safety performance?