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AIHce 2013: Measuring Safety Performance with Leading Indicators

May 21, 2013
Employees at every level should be involved in using leading indicators to better measure and manage safety performance.

John Leyland, president of Safety Performance Services, opened his session at the American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Expo (AIHce) in Montreal with a true story of a workplace tragedy that took place decades ago: On a morning like any other, a husband and father went to his job at an electrical utility. But on this day, he made contact with a high-voltage line and landed in the hospital. Two days later, he died, leaving his wife a widow and his 5-year-old son fatherless.

“No mother or father or brother or sister should have to do go through that experience,” Leyland said. “That’s why what we [EHS leaders] do what we do.”

While preventable workplace tragedies still occur every day, Leyland pointed out that the safety landscape has changed since this worker died back in the mid-1960s because today, leading indicators are more frequently used to measure and improve safety performance. Leyland has spent years working with clients to track these indicators and found that, “as leading indicators are being measured effectively, you see the lagging indicators go down.”

During his presentation at AIHce, Leyland stressed that everyone from the company’s CEO and board of directors down to middle management and floor workers must be involved in measuring or understanding leading indicators. Ideas, information and reports travel from the bottom of the organization to the top, while direction, support and accountability trickle down from the top.

“Everyone’s responsible for safety,” he said. “The CEO is responsible for making sure it happens.”

Leyland suggests building a team approach to the leading indicator measurement. A team approach can be beneficial because it includes employees outside the safety committees; presents a development opportunity for employees; builds a sense of community; builds a commitment to safety and pride of place; strengthens internal responsibility system; and breaks down workplace barriers.

“It helps the team members develop a sense of community,” Leyland said, “a community of common interest in occupational safety and health.”

Making Leading Indicators Work

In order to create a well-managed program, Leyland said companies should:

  • Set expectations for performance.
  • Establish goals to achieve that performance.
  • Measure your results.
  • Evaluate yours results.
  • Assess ongoing needs.
  • Develop new goals depending on those emerging needs.

He also offered the following tips to make leading indicators work in your company:

  • Be creative and think outside the box
  • Establish due diligence training to begin the conversation surrounding measuring safety performance.
  • Start with the part of organization that’s keen for safety success – maybe a particular department had a negative experience and wants to change, or maybe a new employee has a particular interest in safety and health issues.
  • Bring in high-level support.
  • Use what’s out there, such as current research on leading indicators.

“I think we need to actively measure safety from the boardroom to the shop floor,” Leyland said. “When health and safety becomes a true priority, we’re going to see corporate reports with detailed leading indicators, including health and safety performance, that will demonstrate accountability, transparency and sustainability.”

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