Safety management

Safety Leading and Lagging Indicators: What’s the Difference?

Author: Urbint

Leading and lagging indicators both promote safety, but they are very different. Understanding the purpose of each will help you better protect your team.

In this blog, we take a look at leading and lagging indicators and give an overview of the advantages offered by the former. Use this information to make your safety protocols more effective.

Leading indicators

As it pertains to health and safety programs, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) defines leading indicators as “proactive, preventive, and predictive measures that provide information about the effective performance of your health and safety activities.”

This includes issues that precede injuries, illnesses, and other safety incidents that highlight potential problems with your safety procedures. Used to create positive changes, leading indicators focus on preventative actions that can help workers avoid accidents.

For example, OSHA cites an example of a leading indicator as the amount of time it takes to respond to a safety hazard report. Decreasing response time can indicate management’s increased awareness and commitment to improving workplace safety. On the other hand, increasing response time may signal a lack of management concern or that management is overburdened with other tasks and unable to respond in a timely manner. In the latter case, hazards are likely to remain uncontrolled, and incidents are more likely to occur.

Related: 7 Ways to be More Proactive About Worker Safety

Lagging indicators

The opposite of leading indicators, lagging indicators focus on safety incidents that happened in the past. Primarily used to highlight existing failures in your safety program, monitoring lagging indicators allows you to make positive changes, instead of letting the same hazards keep causing accidents.

One of the best lagging indicators examples you’re probably familiar with is the employer-reported workplace injuries and illnesses data, compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Specifically, this includes the fact that 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses were reported by private injury employers in 2019.

According to OSHA, a good safety program includes both leading and lagging indicators. The former promotes positive changes, while the latter measures the effectiveness of existing safety measures. Do note, a safety program that solely relies on lagging indicators is not recommended, as an incident must happen before positive changes are made.

Check out: Worker Safety Resolutions For Construction and Utility Companies

5 advantages of leading indicators

According to the Campbell Institute, many Environment, Health, and Safety (EHS) practitioners are currently placing too much weight on lagging indicators. Referring to these metrics as “failure-focused,” the institute believes they’re ineffective at promoting continuous safety improvements.

Although lagging indicators do provide value, leading indicators offer many more benefits to promote positive changes. Some of these include the following, according to OSHA.

1. Preventing injuries and illnesses at your company

Leading indicators’ safety benefits cannot be emphasized enough. OSHA considers these metrics essential to averting safety incidents and improving outcomes when accidents do occur.

In fact, employers that rely on leading indicators have a major edge on their competition. This is because taking pointed actions to prevent fatalities, injuries, and illnesses helps make workers feel valued and boosts productivity.

Choosing to be proactive, instead of reactive, can mean the difference between employees sustaining injuries on the job and being able to avoid safety incidents. Consequently, you can’t just pay attention to safety data after accidents—you need to closely monitor preventative metrics, how often machines are serviced—on a regular basis.

2. Reducing costs associated with adverse events

Playing it safe can help increase your bottom line, since using leading indicators to identify and repair safety hazards can allow you to cut costs.

Money-saving opportunities include repair costs, production costs, workers’ compensation costs, as well as legal and regulatory expenses typically tied to safety incidents. This makes sense, as healthcare bills from injured employees and production inefficiencies caused by hazardous practices can add up fast.

This is a great way to keep your workers as safe as possible while making your organization more profitable than ever. Leading indicators offer telling clues to help you achieve this—if you’re willing to pay close attention and make necessary changes.

Watch: The Future of Worker Safety in Utilities

3. Improving safety and health performance

Monitoring leading indicators related to your health and safety program can allow you to increase performance in key areas like management leadership, worker participation, education and training, and program evaluation and improvement.

For example, OSHA suggested several leading indicators that support management leadership, including monitoring the percentage of company leaders who attend mandatory safety and health training for workers and the number of times top management starts a conversation about a health and safety topic.

Also see: How to Create a Safety-First Culture

4. Increasing worker participation in safety initiatives

You can’t keep your workforce safe unless they’re educated, informed, and willing to adhere to safety protocols. Carefully monitoring leading indicators can help you learn just how engaged your team is, so you can take any preventative action needed to avert potential safety issues.

For example, OSHA suggested several leading indicators to boost worker participation, including the number of staffers involved in creating safety procedures and the number of workers involved in injury investigations.

Although leading and lagging indicators are both essential for a robust safety program, leading indicators should play a larger role, as they work to prevent accidents, rather than highlighting changes that need to be made after an incident occurs. Furthermore, using leading indicators to find and fix hazards will help your bottom line. It’s truly a win-win for workers and employers.

For more ideas to prevent worker safety incidents, check out “3 Ways to Improve Utility Worker Safety.”

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