Safety Culture Excellence®

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Leading vs. Lagging Indicators in Safety

November 27th, 2013

As more and more leaders and safety professionals realize the limitations of reactive safety, they search for leading indicators to help them manage safety more proactively.  This thinking fueled the concept that lagging indicators alone, are not truly representative of safety performance, nor are they predictive or prescriptive.

 The first round of so-called “leading indicators” was little more than a measurement of safety-related activities: hours of safety training, attendance at safety meetings, participation in safety programs, etc.  OSHA’s crackdown on incentives that could potentially suppress reporting of accidents drove many organizations to base their incentives on these activity metrics rather than simply not having an accident.  

When behavior-based safety became the rage, the measurement of behaviors from observations came to be thought of as a leading indicator. As safety culture became a buzz phrase, perception surveys gained in popularity and came to be considered another potential leading indicator.  The search for meaningful leading indicators goes on because no one of these has proven adequate in predicting and preventing injuries.

Where none of these alone succeed, all of them together potentially can.  A balanced-scorecard approach in which the metrics not only complement, but predict each other has proven quite effective in proactively predicting how to prevent accidents.  When you measure how much activity it takes to change perceptions, how much of a change in perceptions it takes to change behaviors, and how much behavior change it takes to change the lagging indicators, you begin to truly measure the effectiveness of safety efforts.  Just as balanced scorecards have revolutionized strategic management, with our most successful clients, balanced scorecards for safety have proven to have a transformational impact on safety management. How balanced are your measurements? 

-Terry L. Mathis

Terry L. Mathis is the founder and CEO of ProAct Safety, an international safety and performance excellence firm. He is known for his dynamic presentations in the fields of behavioral and cultural safety, leadership, and operational performance, and is a regular speaker at ASSE, NSC, and numerous company and industry conferences. EHS Today listed Terry as a Safety Guru in ‘The 50 People Who Most Influenced EHS in 2010, 2011 and 2012-2013. He has been a frequent contributor to industry magazines for over 15 years and is the coauthor of STEPS to Safety Culture Excellence, 2013, WILEY.