Improve your safety efforts with leading indicators

Implementing a powerful safety culture throughout an organization is essential for keeping employees safe. Striving for a zero-incident rate means going beyond analyzing incident statistics and measuring workdays lost, due to injury. It means making safety an intrinsic part of every task within the company.

You’ll want to be proactive when it comes to safety at work. Leading indicators will help you prevent incidents from happening, and help measure and monitor your organization’s safety efforts and see what can be improved. While lagging indicators show the bottom line effects clearly.

Lagging Indicators are limited

Many companies look at incident data and days lost to measure their safety efforts and analyze problem areas. The problem is that these statistics, also called lagging indicators, report about things that have already happened. They do not give any insight in how well your safety efforts prevent incidents and accidents.

When a company has a low incident or injury rate, safety may find its place at the bottom of the agenda. Although there can be various safety hazards present that could cause future incidents or fatalities. This is why leading indicators are crucial.

A sign on a flat roof signaling slips, trips and falls. 

Leading indicators

While lagging indicators demonstrate that there were (and probably are) safety issues, leading indicators are a signal and monitor of actions that prevent incidents. They are preventative measures with the intent of constant improvement.

Leading indicators offer more distinct advantages to your company than lagging indicators. Not only do they measure safety rather than the absence of injury, but leading indicators also pinpoint the exact effect of actions. Meaning you can easily see the effect of your actions on the safety in your workplace. A company that focusses on leading indicators encourages a culture of safety, shows that the safety of every individual is important, and brings safety to the top of everyone’s mind.

A company with a good safety culture will reap rewards. Not only will there be less incidents and injuries, and thus less expenses, those working within a positive safety culture are much happier about their work. As a result employees have higher productivity and produce better quality work, consequently resulting in more profitability. Leading indicators help create an environment where employees feel heard and safety is valued highly.

Starting with leading indicators

Any company can introduce leading indicators to their safety program at any time. This flexibility allows organizations to grow in their safety efforts, with leading indicators evolving to suit the organization’s level of safety performance.

What leading indicators your company should use depends completely on your goals; there is no standard set of indicators to be used. The leading indicators you select should apply to areas where improvement is needed within your organization.

For example, you want to reduce fall-related incidents in your workplace. You could monitor hazard assessments, e.g. ‘How many fall hazard assessments are done at the worksite? And how many of the hazards found in the assessment are corrected after the assessment?’ If you signal that little to no action is taken after a hazard assessment finds a (potentially) dangerous situation, then you have found a point of improvement that you can work on right away. Another indicator you could use is frequency and attendance of safety meetings. The more opportunities you have to discuss fall hazards and the more employees attend, the more they start to understand safe behavior and how to work safely.

Ask people working in different jobs in the organization about which leading indicators could benefit the company. And talk to the people whose work processes might be measured by the leading indicator selected to help you select relevant leading indicators.

When starting with leading indicators it is advisable to limit yourself to two or three data points. This way you can sufficiently focus on the data these indicators provide and which ones make the greatest impact. You can always expand with more leading indicators, but a solid base for a start is very important for the continuation of improvement.

As a side note, the leading indicators you select should provide you with meaningful data, but collecting this data shouldn’t be costly or be extremely time-consuming.


Management needs to understand the value of leading indicators for shaping a safe work environment. With the support of management, ground level workers will take the leading indicators program much more seriously. Another piece of advice is to communicate leading indicators clearly with everyone and tell the backstory of why these indicators were chosen and what their purpose is.

Using both lagging and leading indicators you can monitor and analyze your company’s safety performance. To give you an idea of how to develop leading indicators we’ve put together a short list of questions you can ask. This list is intended as a starting point for you to make a begin with leading indicators and creating a safer work environment.

More information

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