Safety Performance: Leading v’s Lagging Indicators

Gemma Doyle


EHS Consultant


So, you have your Safety Statement completed, risk assessments carried out, employees trained and a host of other safety items completed, but have you thought about your safety performance and how you can measure it? The majority of large corporations will have this in place already and will be hopefully measuring both leading and lagging safety indicators. On the other hand, SME’s may not have this in place and it will be an area of weakness for them. Before we get into the detail of each, let’s talk about what safety performance indicators are and why they are so important.

“A leading indicator is proactive in nature. They include safety initiatives or reported activities, with the goal of preventing unfavourable events before they happen.” Every company monitors all aspects of its business, to ensure that it performing to its highest and to show if things are moving in the right direction, this should include health and safety too. Having clear indicators will raise awareness among management and employees and focus attention where it’s needed most. Health and safety indicators can also be used as part of an incentive programme for employees. The added bonus of highlighting these indicators, will in turn educate all employees on the importance of reporting and recording all health and safety matters.

Leading indicators must be looked at in the same context as their counterparts: lagging indicators. The objective of measuring both sets of indicators is to assess safety performance, and determine what needs to be done to improve the safety culture of a company. Lagging indicators are reactive in nature. They measure the effectiveness of a safety program after the facts.


What is a Leading Indicator?

A leading indicator is proactive in nature. They include safety initiatives or reported activities, with the goal of preventing unfavourable events before they happen.


Leading Indicators can include:


Leading indicators will help to improve safety through awareness and prevention and will show stakeholders that the company is taking proactive steps to achieve excellence in safety.

The reason why leading indicators should be focused on future safety performance and continuous improvement is that these measures are proactive in nature and will show what the company is doing on a regular basis to prevent injuries.

Be sure that when you use leading indicators, make your metrics based on impact. For example, don’t just track how many audits were carried out each month, measure the impact of the audits – how many non-conformances were found, how many were closed out, etc.


What is a Lagging Indicator?

Lagging indicators are measurements that include data from the past. They include incidents and accidents statistics. These figures are the bottom-line numbers that evaluate the overall effectiveness of safety within a company. They will inform you of how many employees were injured and how seriously. These statistics are reactive.


Examples of Lagging Indicators:


While it is completely necessary to record lagging indicators, they do however have their drawbacks. They will only give you information on how many employees were injured and how severely. They won’t however, tell you how well your company is performing when it comes to preventing accidents and incidents. They measure failure, not performance.

Due to the reactionary nature of lagging indicators, they don’t make for a strong gauge for measuring overall safety and prevention. Unfortunately, they can lead managers and employees to become complacent, just because they see a low injury rate. Safety then may be put to the bottom of their list, when in fact there are many risk factors present in the workplace that will contribute to future accidents and incidents.


Traditional metrics (lagging Indicators) can help companies tell the overall score at the end of month or year, but they do not help employers to understand their strengths and weakness of their safety management program.

A lot of company workplace safety programs will focus most of their efforts on lagging indicators that report on the outcomes of safety initiatives, but forget to give the same consideration to leading indicators that measure proactive activities, which are necessary to achieve the excellence in health and safety.

The key to achieving the best safety management program, is to ensure you are measuring both lagging and leading indicators and not to focus solely on the lagging side. A balance of both will ensure that you are doing everything in your power to provide a healthy and safe workplace for your employees.


A healthy and safe workplace is essential to the wellbeing of employees and employers. This requires an ongoing understanding that efforts must be managed and sustained. Any tools, strategies or programs that can help a company to improve its health and safety is worthy of consideration. In short, leading indicators will provide employers with a means to improve the performance of their current safety management system on an ongoing basis, rather than relying on historic lagging indicators.

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