Incident rates, lost-time rates, days away from work, restricted or transfer (DART) rates are common metrics that companies use to measure their safety performance. For some, it’s become routine, a habit, built around the reporting requirements of regulatory agencies. While these lagging indicators are relevant and important, they are reactive, focusing on how to fix problems, rather than prevent them.
Since safety is only one of the many business drivers that compete for management’s time and money resources, it’s critical that safety practices be high-impact. An integrated approach combining lagging indicators with leading indicators can help reveal weaknesses in an organization’s procedures or employee behavior that can trigger high workers’ compensation costs.
Leading indicators are proactive, designed to give advance warning of potential problems so corrective action can be taken. Yet, many companies face the conundrum of not knowing what leading indicators to use or how to use them. There is no perfect mix of leading indicators, so there can be no cookie cutter approach. Which indicators would be most likely to reduce injuries? Which indicators would motivate desired behaviors? How can the organization contribute to that motivation?
The Campbell Institute of the National Safety Council has spent the past two years researching best practices in leading indicators. They have identified three broad categories of leading indicators:
- System-based: Indicators related to the management of an EHS System
- Operations-based: Indicators relevant to the functioning of an organization’s infrastructure
- Performance-based: Indicators that measure the performance or actions of individuals or groups in the workplace
A white paper, Practical Guide to Leading Indicators, explains the top-ranked indicators of each category and lists various metrics of each indicator. At first, the list may seem a bit overwhelming. It’s helpful to begin by determining desired outcomes and goals and start with a few indicators. What are you trying to accomplish? What leading indicators will best assess if you accomplish the goal? Choosing indicators that drive behavior is important to making improvement. Over time, add new ones and remove those that aren’t working. The paper includes helpful case studies.
As an example, consider training programs. One of the problems with many training programs is they provide information that is soon forgotten or is used only temporarily. Simply measuring the raw number of training hours or dollars spent on training does not tell anything about the quality or relevance of the training. If the program is not meeting the goal of educating workers and changing behavior so that the tasks are consistently performed safely, the program is ineffective.
By analyzing training hours against incident rates, a lagging indicator, it can be determined if an increase in training hours leads to a reduction in incident rates. Drilling down even further, it can be determined if certain aspects of the training have a larger impact on the incident rate than others. Further, it requires job observations and assessments to determine if the training is effective in changing behaviors.
Since the leading indicators chosen will vary by organization and no single indicator can be the solution to all needs, it is a continuous process that will take some effort to determine what works best. High impact leading indicators will ultimately drive better results, promote safer workplaces, and lower workers’ compensation costs. The focus on impact ensures the effort is worth the time and financial commitment.
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