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Leading AND Lagging Indicators – What Are YOU Measuring?


The practice of safety has changed much in the nearly 40 years I’ve been involved in the profession. Measuring success was limited to counting the number of persons injured, made ill, or killed. Corrective action, in many cases, was limited to fixing things through improved guarding or changes in processes.

The goal, quite simply, was to injure fewer people from one year to the next. Safety professionals knew certain techniques and activities had a positive impact on reducing the risk of injuries such as training, audits, and corrective action, but the “value” of these activities were not quantified.

Fast forward to the present day. Much has been learned about the cause of accidents and injuries, especially the human element prevalent in approximately 90% of all work-related injuries. By focusing on activities designed to identify and correct unsafe conditions and behaviors, employers noticed a significant improvement in lagging indicators such as OSHA incident rates and workers’ compensation experience modification rating. As more workplaces focused on effective, preventive activities and techniques, the lagging indicators used to measure success improved.

Naturally, as preventive activities and strategies produced better and better results, safety professionals realized it would be much more effective to look at these activities and strategies as leading indicators, and track them in a manner similar to lagging indicators. It is now accepted that an emphasis on leading indicators will produce a favorable impact on lagging indicators.

We live in the information age; a period of time when information and data is evaluated and used to produce positive results. Leading indicators are now capable of being measured and used to predict when an accident and injury are likely to occur. Predictive analytics uses the power of data and algorithms to forecast what might happen in the future with an acceptable level of reliability. Horton Safety Consultants uses a special software platform, for safety observations and audits, that harnesses the power of predictive analytics, and helps clients focus limited resources on safety issues most likely to cause accidents and injuries.

The concept of leading indicators is really quite simple; focus the most attention on the programs and activities likely to prevent accidents and injuries. There is no limit to the number, or type, of leading indicators that make a positive impact on an organizations safety and risk management program. Examples of simple and obvious leading indicators include safety training programs, safety audits and observations, and preventive maintenance programs. Examples of not-so-obvious leading indicators include establishing budgets for safety programs and activities, safety perception surveys, performance review systems that address safety performance, and leadership involvement in the safety program.

The safety profession has come a very long way from measuring how many people were injured, to measuring and quantifying the activities that can prevent the occurrence of accidents and injuries. While we absolutely need to shift the focus to leading indicators, lagging indicators help validate the work effort in targeting leading indicators. The days of measuring safety program success solely in terms of OSHA incident rates and workers’ compensation experience modification are in the review mirror, but that information will still be part of a more comprehensive program evaluation for years to come. The best of the best safety programs include a strong focus on leading indicators validated by the tried and true lagging indicators. Does your safety program consider leading indicators? 

Material posted on this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a legal opinion or medical advice. Contact your legal representative or medical professional for information specific to your legal or medical needs.

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