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Which Safety Leading Indicators Improve Site Safety Performance?

It’s no secret: the construction industry has one of the highest level of fatalities. How do we know? Historical injury rates. However, looking at the past, so we can predict the future is no longer a reliable strategy for 21st century organizations focused on robust safety prediction and control.

How do you gauge the effectiveness of your safety program?

The difference between lag vs. lead indicators

The construction industry has long evaluated safety performance using statistics of past safety failures.

Known as lagging indicators, these reactive-by-nature statistics measure the performance of a safety program based on existing factual data – no. of incidents, injuries, employee compensation cost, lost workdays. It is a convenient and easy way to measure risk. Thus, they are the dominant KPI in operations management.

However, recent construction safety research shows a more proactive approach to evaluating site safety boosts long-term EHSS performance. 

“The results of the meta-analysis indicate that implementing safety recordkeeping, safety resource, staffing for safety, owner involvement, safety training/orientation, personal protective equipment, safety incentives program, and safety inspections and observation improves long-term safety performance,” researchers say.

A 2018 report by The Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. (ABC) states that companies that engage in leading indicator use are, statistically, considerably safer than their peers.

That is not to say lagging indicators are obsolete. On the contrary. Recording outcome data from lagging events can power a risk-reduction cycle – from line-workers reporting incidents to leadership taking action. This quantifiable business process data indirectly helps measure leading indicators such as the percentage of employees involved in near-miss reporting.

What leading indicators for safety should I track?

The answer varies for each organization and industry. You should track roughly the same indicators as your industry peers to help benchmarking efforts when needed for internal performance and external stakeholder assessments.

While there is no holy grail of leading indicators, successful leading indicators have the following common characteristics, according to the Campbell Institute:

1.       Actionable – metrics with measurable steps

2.       Achievable – obtainable goals

3.       Meaningful – valuable information

4.       Transparent – easy to understand

5.       Easy to communicate

6.       Valid – relevant to an organization’s objectives

7.       Useful – beneficial to the organization’s objectives

8.       Timely – fresh information

Some of the most tracked categories of leading indicators, according to safety managers, fall under these three categories:

·         Operations-based (facility housekeeping, compliance, risk assessment, prevention through design, safety trainings, closure of corrective actions)

·         Systems-based (hazard identification & analysis, learning systems, safety communications, preventative measures, regulatory engagement opportunities)

·         Behavior-based (leadership engagement, off-the-job safety, near-misses, safety meetings, overall employee engagement in safety initiatives, safety process improvements)

In the construction industry, common leading indicators tracked by EHS managers are:

1.       Near-miss/near-hit analysis - potentially-disastrous situations that have been avoided, including the factors that caused them, follow-up and corrective actions.

2.       On-time corrective action closure – how much time it takes to address issues

3.       Compliance assurance – plans to mature to a highly interactive and engaging relationship with regulators

4.       Operational risk – SLRA improvements – initiatives to reduce risks by proactively assessing procedures, PPE, ergonomic controls etc.

5.       Employee peer-to-peer observations – monthly safety P2P observations that help improve safety processes

6.       Time spent on new hire safety orientation, including expectations and responsibilities, rules, hazard communication and performance evaluation and record-keeping.

7.       Implementation of substance abuse programs including strict rules for drug and alcohol use, pre-hire testing and education program.

8.       Involvement in site safety committee meetings that help raise and correct safety concerns.

9.       Single-topic trainings on job sites to improve new employees’ knowledge and performance.

10.   Site-specific safety orientation, including site-specific policies and procedures, hazards and operations, company safety core values.

“At Honeywell SPS, we have implemented our Health, Safety and Environmental Performance Index, with forward-looking “leading indicators” as measures we use to reduce likelihood of adverse events”, says Gregory Bopp, Sr. HSE&F Director for Honeywell SPS. “We do measure past injury performance indicators (e.g.: TCIR); however, those are a rear-view mirror look at performance. The best measures are forward looking that indicate trends that can be actioned before and injury or adverse event.”

By giving employees “eyes and ears”, the level of employee involvement has increased.

“Key to our job-site safety at HON SPS is the peer to peer behavior observation program. Our goal is to have our employees watch out for each in a non-confrontational manner.  Our employees are empowered and encouraged to have open conversations about safety (use of correct PPE, not taking unsafe shortcuts, situational awareness, etc.)”

So, driving a zero-incident job site starts with changing the way we measure success.

Do you agree?