Documenting key performance indicators for health and environment is an essential part of any safety program. You can’t measure program success without data. Traditionally, the standard measurements for EHS programs have been safety lagging indicators, which gather and analyse data after safety issues occur. 

EHS is now seeing a shift towards safety leading indicators, which proactively work to prevent safety issues before they occur. Both lagging and leading safety indicators are important key performance indicators for health and environment conditions, but they measure very different things. 

What is a Lagging Indicator?

What is a lagging indicator? A safety lagging indicator is a reactive response to health and safety issues. Lagging indicators measure the effectiveness of you safety program after adverse effects happen. 

EHS uses lagging indicators to adapt safety protocols and better understand future safety trends. Data used might include:

  • Experience modification rates (EMR),
  • OSHA recordable injuries,
  • Workers compensation rates,
  • Injury frequency and severity,
  • Lost workdays.

Why Use Safety Lagging Indicators?

Safety lagging indicators are used to prove progress is being made towards safety compliance and overall effectiveness. Such indicators reveal how many people got hurt and how badly--or more positively, how many employees weren’t hurt. 

Lagging indicators have one serious drawback. They can accurately identify how many people were injured and where, but not how well your safety program identifies and prevents injuries and accidents. Conceivably, a company could have low injury rates even with the presence of serious safety risks. This doesn’t mean the risks are not present, only that the company and its employees have been lucky so far. If lagging indicators are your only safety metrics, you won’t find out about hidden safety risks until someone is hurt. 


What is a Leading Indicator?

In contrast to lagging indicators, safety leading indicators are proactive key performance indicators for health and environment safety. Leading indicators use data to initiate and report on preventing safety issues by fixing issues before they happen. EHS management uses safety leading indicators to drive continuous improvement and strengthen a culture of safety excellence. 

Data uses as safety leading indicators include:

  • Safety training completion rates,
  • Reduction of work-related musculoskeletal disorder risk factors,
  • Employee safety perception surveys,
  • Safety audits,
  • Completion of preventative maintenance tasks,
  • Percentage of personal protective equipment worn,
  • Percentage of employees who observe safety rules,
  • lockout/tagout rates.

Reasons to Use Safety Leading Indicators

Why use safety leading indicators? Their proactive nature allows you to better evaluate workplace safety, and let you:

  • See incremental improvements in safety performance.
  • Measure the positive aspects of safety rather than simply negative events.
  • Provide frequent feedback to all stakeholders.
  • Be predictive rather than reactive.
  • Track safety program issue versus invention.
  • Track employee safety training.

Which is Better? Lagging or Leading Indicators?

Ideally, your key performance metrics for safety and environment protection include both lagging and leading indicators. Lagging indicators yield important historical data, and identify key safety issues. Leading indicators identify existing and future safety concerns, and work to prevent them by driving safety inspections, compliance, and ongoing employee training.

Documenting Key Performance Metrics for Health and Environment

Documentation is vital for both safety lagging and leading indicators. Lagging indicators such as OSHA injury reports need to be stored in a secure database. Access to lagging indicator database makes it simple to generate reports and analyze data.

For safety leading indicators, the ability to document events in real-time is invaluable. Mobile form software allows supervisors and employees the means of documenting events as they occur, be they accident reports or the completion of important safety training. The ability to submit reports to a central database via smartphone apps and run immediate analytics greatly improves the outcome of EHS key performance indicators, encouraging a culture of workplace safety that strives for continuous, data-driven improvement. 

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