Safety and OSHA News

Top 8 characteristics of successful leading safety indicators

Which leading indicators are used to measure EHS success will vary from company to company. But a new study from the National Safety Council identifies the characteristics successful ones have in common.

The study from Campbell Institute, the NSC’s “center of excellence for environmental, health and safety management,” was released at the organization’s 2013 Congress and Expo in Chicago.

An expert panel was asked to determine the specific characteristics of leading indicators for EHS. The panel said the best leading indicators have 8 common characteristics. The best indicators are:

  • actionable
  • achievable
  • meaningful
  • transparent
  • easy to communicate
  • valid
  • useful, and
  • timely.

The EHS field has continued to rely on lagging indicators such as injury rates, absenteeism and workers’ compensation expenses to measure their companies’ safety programs, despite growing concern that these failure-based measures are ineffective in driving continuous improvement.

A commonly mentioned leading indicator is counting the number of near-miss reports from employees. This type of indicator appears to provide early warning signs of potential failure, enabling companies to identify and correct deficiencies.

However, the Campbell Institute report recognizes that even counting near-misses is really not a pure leading indicator. It is somewhere in between, compared to other leading indicators such as counting the number of hours spent on safety training. It’s validation that some indicators are not 100% in one of the two categories.

Some other findings from the study, Transforming EHS Performance Measurement Through Leading Indicators:

  • 88.9% of survey respondents said measuring EHS performance using leading indicators is either extremely or very important
  • A plurality of respondents (44.4%) said they use mostly lagging indicators with some leading indicators in their EHS programs at the corporate level; 16.7% said they use only lagging indicators
  • 64.3% said they paid attention to leading EHS indicators in communication with executives “a great deal” or “quite a bit,” and
  • 53.3% of EHS professionals said they were held “a great deal” or “quite a bit” accountable for performance of leading indicators.


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  1. Blair H. Shaffer says:

    Characteristic #1: All employees working with or near processing equipment SHALL always wear proper PPE, including SAFETY GLASSES. Hmmm . . .

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