Leading Indicators Key to Prevention
This article was
developed and submitted by DuPont, a World Safety Declaration charter
Typical safety management practices include traditional reporting
tools such as monthly status reports. However, more effective methods
involve commitment on the part of management to reserve dedicated
time for interactions leading to continuous improvement and true
management of change. In addition to trailing and current indicators,
forward-thinking leadership requires leading indicators which enable
the understanding of the effectiveness of the safety efforts underway
at an operation. Such interactions serve not only as a way to prevent
injuries, but also as a way of continuously improving productivity
and quality in plants.
The same strong operating discipline
that is required to create a safety culture is needed to drive world-class
performance in productivity and quality. Employing this discipline
can have a huge human, social and financial impact on employees,
customers and shareholders. When safety professionals employ
this operating discipline, they are able to provide management with leading indicator
metrics that assess the effectiveness of their organization’s efforts.
Comparison of Indicator Types
Leading indicators measure proactive efforts. These indicators can
uncover weaknesses before they develop into full-fledged problems.
Leading indicators are effective predictors of safety performance
because they focus on the types of issues that are key to successful
safety performance — things like leadership, involvement
and the beliefs of people. Some examples of leading indicators include:
quality of the audit program, analysis of process hazards reviews,
emergency response plan, near-miss reporting and analysis, employee
attitudes and perceptions, quality and quantity of employee safety
suggestions, scope of the training plan and compliance with engineering
and government standards and guidelines.
In comparison, more traditional
measurements such as trailing indicators and current indicators are
a reaction to past and current efforts. For example, trailing indicators
represent a historical approach to safety. While the use of trailing
indicators is important, they serve as a report card, revealing how
well we have done in the past, where our problems have been and past
trends in our safety performance. They include measures such as:
injury and illness statistics, process releases statistics, vehicle
accident statistics, disability costs, litigation costs, workers’ compensation
costs and regulatory citations and penalties. The use of trailing
indicators can only take us so far.
measure the degree to which safety has been institutionalized and
management systems have been implemented. They provide a measure
of potential loss events. Some current indicators are: safe and unsafe
acts indices, incident investigation reporting and analysis, serious
potential incident frequency, safety audit findings, occupational
medical visits, training records and effectiveness, action on past
employee perception surveys and attendance at and quality of safety
meetings. Current indicators tell us where we are now. They help
us evaluate how well our management systems are working, and they
can also help predict potential losses over the short-term.
measurement of safety performance through leading indicators provides
the best opportunity to prevent harm and losses from happening at
all. When injury and loss rates are low, measuring only the “output” does
not provide adequate feedback for managing safety. Therefore, defined
leading indicators are critical to preventing accidents and incidents.
Most simply viewed, a leading indicator serves as an early warning
of potential injury.
Determining Leading Indicators
Using experience and knowledge to infer broad relationships between
facts and results helps turn mere facts into leading indicators.
For example, a sense of fatigue indicates approaching the limit of
capacity to work. Treating fatigue as a simple fact may suggest rest,
but interpreting it as a leading indicator points to re-balancing
the effort required and the resources available for a broader injury
prevention approach. Or observing materials, tools and equipment
left on the walk-path would cause us to remove these tripping hazards.
But treating clutter as an indicator of poor attitude towards safety
should drive us to motivate the organization to live up to higher
standards of safe behavior.
Leading indicators become valuable tools
only if they are used to take corrective action in order to negate
their implications on the outcome. Since this concept is the essence
of process control, this methodology can be useful in using leading
indicator data to help manage safety performance. Figure 1 shows
how comparing desired performance with an aspect of actual performance
(leading indicators) generates correction. As performance approaches
the goal, the required correction diminishes. But even small deviations
create corrective action. Maintaining performance at the desired
level to achieve and maintain goal performance is determined by both
the effectiveness of the process and the relationship of the leading
indicators to the output and results.
Attributes Of Effective Leading Indicators
Many safety performance parameters can be used as leading indicators,
but some are better than others as tools to help improve performance.
Characteristics of effective leading indicators in managing safety
- Simple, close connectivity to the outcome/results
- Objectively and reliably measurable
- Different groups interpret it in the same way
- Broadly applicable across company operations
- Easily and accurately communicated
Benefits of Leading Indicators
Leading Indicators track incremental steps to improvement,
informing the organization of its movement toward performance goals.
They enable managers and other employees to access the quality of their
efforts, the rate of their improvement and the health of their programs.
And they can be used as well by small work teams as by larger plant
groups. Most importantly, leading indicators drive continuous improvement
in an organization that results in safer employees. By attacking the
base of the hazard pyramid to reduce at risk behavior and gaps in safe
thinking, important differences are made that reduce injuries and fatalities.