Leading indicators can provide EHS teams with deep insights into the strengths and weaknesses of our health and safety programs, but when it comes to implementing and measuring them, many questions still remain.
We’ve compiled the top five questions EHS Directors ask our CEO most often about leading indicators and have shared his answers below:
1. Should the EHS team report all leading indicators to other executives?
From what we’ve seen at eCompliance, it’s best to choose a small handful of leading indicators that you have the greatest confidence in and present those together with lagging indicators to provide your company’s top executives with a holistic view of safety performance. Having another list tracked by the EHS team on the side is good practice to test out association with safety performance down the line. However, it doesn’t mean that all leading indicators need to be presented to executives who generally just want to know the trajectory of safety performance and how they can specifically support safety initiatives other than signing the safety policy.
2. How do I rally my company’s executive team around leading indicators and away from just lagging indicators?
Many executives will focus on lagging indicators so simply introducing the concept of leading indicators can sometimes be a challenge when causality is not firmly established. However, action orientated ones like the number of corrective/preventative actions completed can help prove tangible progress in a safety program and are sometimes easier to understand for our non-EHS colleagues. Other business functions like operations and finance regularly show historical numbers and forecast future results, and EHS can also do the same. However, specific numerical predictions can often be misleading until we have high quality real-time data and artificial intelligence is regularly being used (we’re still a few years away from that).
One easy way to communicate the implications of leading indicators is with a green, yellow and red light outlook system for different sites, divisions, business units, etc. For example, Site A has a green light outlook based on leading indicators and Site B has a yellow light outlook. The advantage of this is it allows EHS leadership to communicate the nuances of “why” without getting stuck in the mathematical justifications of a specific incident or injury rate. After all, the focus should be on how the executive team can help change the outlook from yellow to green next month.
3. How do I turn leading indicators into predictive analytics?
Leveraging the power of your leading indicators first starts with collecting good real-time data from your frontline workforce (usually it’s easiest to start with supervisors utilizing tablets or smart phones). Secondly, use that data to create real-time dashboards to help you identify which indicators are best measured across different parts of your organization (they’re usually different for different operating environments). Next, isolate the ones that are consistent indicators of near misses, incidents and injuries, and which leading indicators are hit or miss depending on the situation. Lastly, use established Safety Intelligence solutions to drive the predictive analytics for you. However, it’s good to start with a green/yellow/red light system first before promising a true prediction. In health and safety, a prediction may not be what is needed to drive the right actions to reduce risk, but if you do drive actions correctly, you’ll (gladly) miss your forecast.
4. How do I keep up with reviewing leading indicators and keep them relevant to our company?
Automate the collection of data to the best of your ability. We’ve seen companies with a dozen people just doing data entry to get leading indicators that were then reported on 6 months later, which is simply unnecessary. Naturally, some EHS safety management systems do this, but they do require 2-way communication with managers or supervisors to help them understand what forms they’re filling out and how those forms are then turned into meaningful dashboards for the President of the company, for example. The best way to help them understand this and get their buy-in, is to simply show them how the data is being used to make specific management decisions. Doing this early on can be powerful as most supervisory level employees rarely get a glimpse into what happens with safety forms or other data once they collect and report on it.
5. How do I know when my company is ready to advance from one level of EHS program maturity to another?
In our leading indicators Guide to Success, we outline three levels of EHS program maturity and what your team could consider tracking at each level. At some point, you will realize some leading indicators are more indicative of true risk and safety performance than others that do not link. The key is to change out the ones that do not associate with real risk and keep those that do. The tricky thing is some leading indicators are better suited to different frequencies of measurement (i.e. some that take months, or even quarters to manifest). Therefore, ranking your leading indicators in terms of expected shortest to longest measurement periods is helpful in setting expectations on the length of time before some causality is established. It’s also much more likely that a group of leading indicators is associated with incidents and injuries at a point in time (rather than one leading indicator over long periods of time).
Unfortunately, there is no bright-line test for when your safety program is ready to progress to the next level because it is usually a continuous process. However, you will likely notice that once certain base leading indicators are associated with the “old way of safety” in the organization, it’s time to start measuring leading indicators that may be more difficult to get good grades on at first, but will help the frontline workforce understand the link between leading indicators and ultimately safety and operational performance. Therefore, switching 1-2 leading indicators out and adding 1-2 in at least annually will help in early stages of your safety program’s (re)development.