The use of leading indicators in safety management and the predicting of safety performance continues to gain traction. However, issues have arisen around defining leading indicators and around collecting data about leading indicators, such as who should collect it, where it should be collected and when it should be collected.
The quality of the data collected will determine the accuracy and the acceptability of the results forthcoming from the data.
What Is a Leading Indicator?
This question has been debated for a number of years. Leading indicators are collected information from which direction is given for possible future action. Examples of some common leading indicators include the following:
- Barometric pressure is a leading indicator that permits the weather man or woman to give guidance concerning the action of taking an umbrella to work the next morning
- High blood pressure and body temperature are leading indicators of health issues.
When considering safety, some common leading indicators include:
- Near misses
- Unsafe conditions
- Unsafe acts
- Job safety operations and analysis
- Attendance at safety meetings
How do we collect leading indicator data?
Many companies have experience difficulties in collecting leading indicator safety data. There often is reluctance on the part of workers to share information. Employees will state, “This is not part of my job, and I’m not being paid to provide this information.” While management can mandate the reporting of leading indicators, all too often this results in low-quality data.
There also are concerns associated with a plant employee collecting and reporting leading indicator data. This concern is associated with identifying actions of the reporting employee or other associates that can be identified as unsafe. The fear is that they or their fellow employees will be disciplined or perhaps fired for an unsafe act once it is reported.
For a leading indicator program to be effective, those collecting and reporting leading indicator information must be assured of a no-blame culture. So, no discipline for those reporting leading indicators or for those who experienced the leading indicator incident. A no-blame culture can and will be effective, but it will take time to implement and for a level of trust to develop between management and those reporting leading indicators.
Many companies have introduced incentive programs that rewards employees who report leading indicators. Some companies have introduced team competitions where the team that reports the largest number of leading indicators is provided with a reward, such as a dinner. This can result in poor quality data, resulting from the reporting of leading indicators that did not occur as a way to raise the number of leading indicator reports provided for the incentive prize. In addition, incentive programs tend to be short-lived and have minimal long-term effectiveness.
Creating an Effective Data Collection Program
For the program to be effective, the collecting and reporting of leading indicator safety information must be simple to gather and easy to report. Most importantly, the data must be reported anonymously. This is the first step in a no-blame culture. Some companies have used paper forms, while others use 800 numbers and others more sophisticated computer-based reporting and spreadsheets.
The collecting and reporting of leading indicator data is important to changing the thinking that someone must be hurt before corrective measures may be taken. Leading indicator information provides the same information that lagging indicator information provides with one major difference: With the collecting of leading indicator data, no one was hurt.
A way to ensure program effectiveness is to have it owned and managed by the employees. This can work and improve the trust level between management and the workers. No one wants to fail at anything, and this includes the workers.
Employees working together will provide leading indicators anonymously to company EHS personnel. Keep in mind that the leading indicator program is designed to improve safety performance and as a result reduce injuries. Hourly employees are looking for just that outcome. They will work to make the program successful.
To create an effective data collection process around leading indicators, you must be able to answer the following questions:
Who collects such data? All members of a plant community collect the data. This includes the employee who sweeps the floor on the midnight to 8 a.m. shift to the plant manager of perhaps 1,000 or more employees.
Where should such data be collected? The data should be collected within a plant community and reported to the company environmental health and safety function. Since the data is reported anonymously, the form or method of data collection should be as complete as possible since there will be no contact with a person providing the data.
When should such data be collected? Data collection should be ongoing. In addition, it is important to share the information with those collecting and reporting the data. This will assure that those collecting and reporting the data are an important integral part of the process. They add value.
Dr. Vince Marchesani, Ph.D., formerly vice president, Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) at LyondellBasell, has over 30 years of experience in the chemical manufacturing industry. Vince holds a Bachelor of Science and Masters of Science from Drexel University and Ph.D. from Rutgers University and is the author of the book, “The Fundamentals of Crisis Management.“
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