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Using Leading and Lagging Indicators for HSE Management – Alliance Borealis Canada

Incidents are a poor measure of HSE performance. As a lagging or reactive indicator, incidents can tell you that parts of your HSE program have failed and point toward areas that need to be fixed, but not much more.

Senior management and boards might find incident statistics compelling and push down directives to improve safety records in the face of bad statistics, but it’s unreasonable to expect that an edict about fixing broken HSE programs is going to make much of a difference…unless the focus extends to identifying and building on positive or leading initiatives.

Corrective actions, safety meetings, safety training, inspections, hazard IDs and maintenance programs all offer valuable opportunities for identifying and measuring the impact of leading initiatives on HSE performance. The key is tracking them, lining them up beside incidents and correlating the effects of one on the other. From there, genuine, meaningful improvement is possible.

Lagging Indicators

For many companies, lagging indicators are usually the first safety statistics they choose to monitor. These indicators are also the ones that most senior managers are comfortable with — and in some cases, they may be the only indicators that an organization uses to manage its HSE performance. Lagging indicators measure the effectiveness of safety programs by collecting and analyzing data after an incident occurs. Typical lagging indicators include injury frequency and severity, recordable injuries, number and types of injuries, lost workdays, and days away from work. Traditionally, they’re used to identify trends and variance from safety goals.

Because lagging indicators are reactionary in nature, they provide a poor measure of prevention. The problem in using only lagging indicators is that they tell how many people were injured, but not how well a company is doing in preventing injuries. Measuring the harm, loss, or damage that has already happened is valuable, but it won’t help to improve the safety performance of a company’s operations.

Leading Indicators

Leading indicators are proactive, preventive and predictive. They capture and provide current information about effective performance, activities and processes of HSE management. They drive the identification and elimination or control of risks in the workplace that can otherwise lead to incidents and injuries.

Common leading indicators include:

  • Near misses
  • Behavioural observations
  • Training records
  • Safety meetings
  • Employee perception surveys
  • Preventive maintenance programs
  • Hazard IDs and assessments
  • Inspections

Although no single leading indicator is appropriate for all organizations, it’s essential that you choose indicators that fit your organization’s specific needs. It’s also necessary that you get value out of them.

According to The Campbell Institute, a leading US-based think tank on HSE management, value comes when indicators are:

  1. Actionable — metrics that have measurable steps
  2. Achievable — setting obtainable goals
  3. Meaningful — obtaining information that justifies continued tracking
  4. Transparent — metrics that are understandable
  5. Easy to Communicate
  6. Valid — relevant to the organization’s objectives
  7. Useful — metrics that are beneficial to the organization’s safety goals
  8. Timely — distributing information that is still relevant to the organization

The Institute offers a helpful “Practical Guide to Leading Indicators: Metrics, Case Studies & Strategies” that can help organizations select and achieve value from their indicators.

Once you know what you want to track and why…

There are countless ways to collect and track HSE data, but paper and spreadsheets should be your last resort. Leading and lagging HSE performance data is only useful if you can record, access and work with it efficiently. If it’s buried in spreadsheets or split across multiple applications, the data might be useful but the process of working with it too cumbersome to make it worthwhile. Tracking it all under one application will ensure you have consistency in how you collect, organize, correlate, communicate and act on your HSE performance data.


The collection of lagging indicator data is no longer adequate for effectively managing HSE performance. It needs to be combined with the strategic collection of leading indicator data to deliver useful results.

Whatever HSE performance data your company chooses to collect, make sure it counts toward improving performance. Additionally, ensure it’s managed in an application that encourages engagement at all levels of your organization so that everyone sees and experiences the positive changes you are working toward.

At ABCanada we help our clients find value and opportunity in their HSE performance data. Check out our cloud-based STELLAR HSE Management and Tracking software and see a much clearer picture of performance and opportunity! Contact us today.

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