Using Leading Indicators to Predict Safety Performance

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Courtesy of Intelex Technologies Inc.

Leading indicators have been used for years to predict the future. Meteorologists use barometric pressure to predict the weather, politicians use polls to inform their campaign strategies and doctors use elevated body temperature as an indicator of patient health. Therefore, the use of leading indicators to predict future safety performance is a logical next step in successfully improving safety measurement, management and most importantly performance. The impact of using leading safety indicators to predict injuries is similar in magnitude to the impact experienced in safety with the introduction of behavioral safety.

Leading indicators are accidents or events that almost happened. They are the measurement of actions, activities or incidents that do not result in injuries. While the use of safety leading indicators continues to gain momentum, for the most part people are not certain what to do with the data once collected. The use of leading indicators to predict injuries and/or safety performance represents a paradigm shift in how safety data are monitored, collected and used.

The National Safety Council’s Campbell Institute recently published a study titled, “Transforming EHS Performance Measurement Through Leading Indicators.” The study is designed to advance the state of knowledge and practice of using leading indicators to measure the EHS performance of organizations. The study concludes that leading indicators offer a more useful gauge of EHS activity than lagging indicators since they provide early warning signs of potential failure thereby enabling organizations to identify and correct deficiencies before they mature into accidents and injuries.

The study defines leading indicators as, “Proactive, preventative and predictive measures that monitor and provide current information about effective performance, activities and processes of an EHS management system that drive the identification and elimination of the control of risks in the workplace that can cause incidents and injuries.”

The database that makes up safety leading indicators is enormous in size. It is the base on which the Heinrich safety pyramid sits. This base, which has a greater number of incidents (almost accidents) than the number of first aids, contains near misses, unsafe acts, unsafe conditions, job safety observations and many other leading indicators. This base is often not displayed, but it exists.

The protocol developed to predict injuries/safety performance uses near miss, unsafe acts and unsafe conditions that did not result in an accident or injury. It identifies the probability, severity and type of injury that could have occurred should there have been an accident and creates a bar chart and pie chart from which conclusions can be drawn that will lead to the implementation of efforts to prevent the predicted injuries from taking place.

It is important to remember that unlike the response to lagging indicators, corrective action will be taking place from information gained from leading indicators and NO ONE WAS INJURED. This means that safety data is gathered and decisions involving corrective action are made ensuring better safety performance without taking corrective actions as a response to injuries. The cost savings in workers’ compensation alone are huge. The cost of re-training, to say nothing of the pain and suffering withheld from the injured individuals, their family, friends and co-workers, represents a cost that is almost too large to calculate. This protocol has been tested and it works.

For example: the protocol can predict an increase in the probability of OSHA recordable injuries from cuts. With this information you can increase awareness via coaching where individuals are at risk for cuts, and call for the use of gloves. It is these corrective actions, where no one was injured, that keep up awareness and reduces the probability of a loss of traction and as a result continued world-class safety performance.

Those in leadership EHS positions are looking for simple ways to improve safety performance at minimal costs. They are looking for something that creates safety awareness and does not need to be periodically replaced due to a loss of traction. These leaders need look no further than the ability to continually prevent injuries before they happen, allowing them to fine-tune safety efforts, thereby ensuring world-class safety performance.

You can learn more by joining the discussion in the Intelex Community, where Dr. Vince Marchesani will take your questions.

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