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The Value of Leading Indicators in Safety

Charts and bar graphs show safety leading indicators are being tracked

In many ways, safety is a numbers game. How many incidents have occurred in the workplace? How much time has been lost due to injury? How much has do safety issues cost the company?

Injuries are the most obvious thing for safety managers to track. But as Ray Prest argues in the pages of Safety Decisions, injury data rarely paints an accurate picture of the overall state of workplace safety.

For starters, injury data is a lagging indicator. It describes what has happened, not what is going to happen. Incident rates can also be distorted by a great deal of statistical noise caused by luck, overzealous supervisors or employees, or temporary changes to working conditions or production schedules.

Fortunately, there are numerous different measurements that can provide a clearer understanding of safety at a facility. Ray reminds readers that injuries are largely caused by inattention and human error. Find a way to measure error outside of safety and you may be able to gauge at-risk workers are of error-related injuries.

For example, production mistakes, scrap waste and equipment damage are all affected by human error. If there is an increase in production problems, this may be a sign that injuries are around the corner. Conversely, if production is smoother than ever then that could indicate that your human error reduction training is working.

It’s important to note that companies can and should rely on different leading indicators. As Ray says:

Identifying leading indicators requires a close look at the wide range of signals broadcasted by each workforce and seeing which of them is associated with the structural, behavioral, and mental states that lead to injury. There’s no one-size-fits-all indicator—and it can be a lot of work for a safety team to figure out which signals are useful and which are just noise.

Safety managers shouldn’t shy away from determining which indicators are the best measures of safety in their workplace. Once these metrics are being tracked, organizations can start recognizing when workers are at a greater risk of being hurt and can take steps to avoid injuries before they happen.

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