Historically speaking, past safety metrics were mostly considered when reacting to an event than preventing the event in the first place. However, this system was limited in it’s ability to achieve zero losses. Many organizations are now favoring what are are called “leading indicators” over “lagging indicators” as a result.
So What Exactly is the Difference?
Lagging indicators are a reactive approach to incident prevention; they follow an event after it has occurred. What this means is that we look at past mistakes or incidents and talk about ways to reduce a repeat of the event. For example, if an employee trips over a stray cord and is hurt, we would then look for stray cords and attempt to put them away before another incident can occur. This is a lagging indicator.
Leading indicators are more proactive or forward thinking. We focus more on past successes and continuous improvement to report what employees are doing on a regular basis. For example, rather than waiting for something (like a stray cord) to become a near miss, we would look for ways to prevent this hazard in the first place. In this sense, we are removing the element of luck from the equation and are simply becoming better at recognizing hazards.
Why Should I Use Leading Indicators?
The success or failure of safety programs has generally been measured by reactive data such as the injury rates, the number of incidents and the costs associated with these incidents. The growing consensus, however, is that lagging indicators such as these do not truly reflect the effectiveness of safety programs.
Shifting focus from lagging indicators to leading indicators has been proven to drive continuous improvement in many organizations. This affords companies the opportunity to monitor and assess their programs while preventing loss. In some cases, leading indicators can predict a loss before it even occurs.
What are the Benefits?
Leading indicators precede events and help predict what’s to come. They are beneficial to companies for several reasons such as:
- They allow you to see performance improvements;
- They measure the positive; what you are doing right versus what you are doing wrong;
- They include preventative measures to mitigate hazards;
- They encourage constructive problem solving; and
- They provide a clear picture of what needs to be done to improve.
Companies who use leading indicators often have a greater awareness and better communication among employees.
Looking Forward Instead of Backwards
The difference between leading indicators and lagging indicators is the difference between looking forward instead of looking backward. Taking a more proactive approach toward incident prevention affords companies the ability to prevent incidents before they occur and foster greater awareness of safety hazards throughout the organization.