How’s your safety performance?

Measure it using leading and lagging indicators.

October 20, 2016   by CCOHS

Looking closely at how you measure safety performance is an important step toward improving it. Using leading and lagging indicators is an effective way to prevent workplace incidents. This process involves measuring both your bottom line safety results and how well your workplace is doing at accident and incident prevention. Controlling leading indicators, such as the amount of safety training you provide, controls lagging indicators, such as injury rate.

Lagging indicators measure performance by tracking accident statistics, which tells you how many people got hurt and how badly.

Examples include:
• injury frequency and severity,
• lost workdays,
• incidents and near misses, and
• workers’ compensation costs.

There’s a downside to using only lagging indicators: they don’t tell you how well your company is preventing incidents and accidents. For example, a low number of lost workdays suggests there are no safety issues, which creates a false sense of security. There could be issues that contribute to a future increase in lost workdays.


Lagging indicators show when a desired safety outcome has failed, or when a health and safety objective has not been achieved. The learning comes from recognizing a past mistake and results in reactive rather than proactive action. Yet it’s important to monitor this data because evidence of an increasing number of injuries or incidents of illness signals improvements are needed in the safety system. However, it’s also worth noting many workplaces have too few injuries to distinguish real trends from random occurrences, and all injuries may not be reported.

Eliminating risks

Leading indicators are proactive, preventative, and predictive measures that identify and eliminate the risks and hazards that cause incidents and injuries.

Examples include:
• percentage of managers with occupational health and safety training;
• percentage of workers with health
and safety training;
• frequency of health and safety meetings;
• frequency of ergonomic assessments; and
• frequency of safety audits.

It’s important to base your leading indicators on impact. For example, don’t just track attendance at safety meetings and training sessions. Measure the impact of meetings and training by determining the number of people who met key learning objectives.

Why use leading indicators? They’re proactive, focusing on future safety performance and continuous improvement. They also report regularly on what employees and management are doing to prevent injuries. Leading indicators help identify and understand the factors affecting the risk of injury, which helps to identify ways of preventing injury and illness.

Leading indicators connected to specific occupational health and safety program goals introduce a real level of accountability, but they also measure and monitor the importance of health and safety within the organization.

Using them complements more traditional outcome-based measures of lagging indicators and balances out some of their limitations.

Measurement is an important part of any management process and forms the basis for continuous improvement. Combining lagging and leading indicators provides a clearer picture of what is and isn’t working.

This article was contributed by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), Canada’s national resource for the advancement of workplace health and safety. It promotes the physical, psychosocial and mental health of working Canadians by providing information, training, education and management systems that advance health and safety.

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