The use of leading indicators in safety management and the predicting of safety performance continues to gain traction. While this is true issues have arisen around topics such as:
- What exactly is a leading indicator?
- How does one collect such data?
- Who collects to such data?
- Where is such data collected?
- When should such data be collected?
In addressing the above questions one must keep in mind that the quality of the data collected will determine the accuracy and the acceptability of the results forthcoming from the data. This post will not address the use of leading indicators in the managing of safety and the predicting a safety performance. These are subjects for another paper. Instead this post will focus on the importance and how to collect quality leading indicator data.
What exactly is a leading indicator?
This question has been debated for 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
- Hi blood pressure and body temperature are leading indicators of health issues.
When considering safety some common leading indicators examples include:
- Near Misses
- Unsafe conditions
- Unsafe acts
- Job safety operations and analysis
- Attendance at safety meetings
How does one collect such data?
Many companies have experience difficulties and collecting leading indicator safety data. There is often 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 is also fear associated with a plant employee collecting and reporting leading indicator data. The fear is real and 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 employee, will be disciplined or perhaps fired for an unsafe act once reported. For a leading indicator program to be effective those collecting and reporting leading indicator information must be assured of a no blame culture; therefore, no discipline for those reporting leading indicators and, 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 be developed between management and those reporting leading indicators.
Many companies have introduced incentive programs where those who report leading indicators are rewarded. Some companies have introduced team competitions where the team that reports the larger number of leading indicators is provided a reward such as a dinner. Again this often results in poor quality information as a result of the reporting of leading indicators that did not happen so as to raise the number of leading indicator reports provided. In addition incentive programs tend to be short-lived and have minimal long-term effectiveness.
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 important the data must be reported anonymously. This is the first step in a no blame culture. Some companies have used paper forms others 800 calling 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. The 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. The employees working together will provide plant-leading indicators anonymously to company EHS personnel. Keep in mind that the leading indicator program is design to improve safety performance and as a result reduce injuries. The hourly employees are looking for just that outcome. They will work to make the program successful.
Who collects such data?
All members of a plant community collect the data. This includes the individual who sweeps the floor on the midnight to 8 AM shift to the plant manager of perhaps a thousand 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.