OSHA recently created a webpage to promote the use of leading indicators, describing them as “vital…in preventing worker fatalities, injuries, and illnesses and strengthening other safety and health outcomes in the workplace.” This webpage contains a brief introduction to the topic and links to a 17- page document offering more detailed guidance. We wanted to provide OECA members with a digestible overview of what leading indicators are and offer a few tips on integrating them into your safety program.
Leading v. Lagging Indicators Explained
Here’s an analogy from healthcare: Waiting until a serious illness or health crisis occurs to seek medical care is not ideal. The stroke, heart attack, or seizure that brought you into the hospital is a lagging indicator — It’s too late to prevent the event, but at least now you know it’s time to change your behavior. Unfortunately, many well-intentioned employers are familiar with lagging indicators, having seen and reacted to a safety incident in the workplace.
But rather than swing from crisis to crisis, healthcare professionals recommend routine checkups. Regular appointments give doctors the opportunity to measure leading indicators, like your heart rate, blood pressure, etc. Monitoring these factors can signal trouble down the road and allow patients to correct their trajectory before a crisis occurs. OSHA reminds employers that a ‘post hoc safety approach’ — a safety program built on reacting to disasters — is not the only way.
Let’s Get Specific!
OSHA details two types of leading indicators:
Most safety programs are, at their core, reactive. They’re built from policies enacted to address previous mistakes. But leading indicators are proactive; they’re designed to anticipate safety concerns before incidents occur. Keep your eyes open for opportunities to minimize risk by 1) identifying leading indicators, 2) tracking your progress with hard data, and 3) setting goals.