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Tracking Leading and Lagging Indicators for Safety

Posted by Danielle Goddard on February 7, 2019

All organizations set benchmarks to track their progress in reaching their business goals. Measuring the performance of your safety program should be no different.

So, how can EHS managers gauge your company’s safety performance? Start by carefully considering your safety objectives. What problems are you looking to solve? What areas of your safety program need improvement?

Answering these questions will help you to identify the right safety metrics to track. These indicators reveal important insights into the overall health of your safety management system.

Computer monitor displaying Total Case Incident Rate lagging metric

What is a lagging indicator?

Lagging indicators are key performance indicators (KPIs) that look at past statistics. Data that has already occurred. By definition, they’re reactive, not proactive. They can be used to track how many incidents took place at your organization, and how severe the injuries or illnesses were. 


What are some examples of lagging indicators?

The number or location of OSHA recordable incidents; incident rates, including Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR), Days Away, Restricted, or Transferred (DART) Rate, and Lost Time Incident Rates (LTIR); are all examples of lagging indicators.

While it’s necessary to track lagging indicators, unfortunately, they provide little direction or insight into the behaviors and conditions that precede incidents. That’s why they should not be the only metrics that you examine. Lagging indicators are most useful when they are reviewed together with leading indicators.

What is a leading indicator?

Unlike lagging indicators, leading indicators are predictive metrics that focus on continuous improvement.

According to Jonathan Thomas, director of safety management solutions for the National Safety Council (NSC), leading indicators measure safety events or behaviors that occur before an incident.

In a whitepaper produced by NSC’s Campbell Institute, safety experts agreed that leading indicators can be defined as:

“Proactive, preventative measures that monitor and provide current information about the effective performance, activities, and processes of an EHS management system ….”

These metrics can give safety professionals advanced warning of potential problems so that preventive steps can be taken.

Leading indicators should:

  1. Measure the positive: what people are doing versus failing to do.
  2. Improve or influence constructive problem-solving.
  3. Allow for continuous improvement.
Chart displaying inspections by location safety metric


What are some examples of leading indicators?

The root causes of near misses, the percent of inspections or behavior based safety observations completed at a location, and training attendance and pass rates are all examples of leading indicators. By analyzing these metrics, you can get an idea of what is working, and what might be in danger of causing an incident.

Say you notice a particular location has a lower number of safe behaviors than everywhere else. Then you notice that same location has a lower training pass rate. Using these two leading indicators, you discover this location hasn't been taking its training program seriously. These leading indicators gave you the information you needed to intervene, and possibly prevent a workplace injury


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