Understanding leading and lagging indicators of safety

leading and lagging indicators of safety

Blog » Understanding leading and lagging indicators of safety

Having a Safety Committee in place is a great way to facilitate a safe and healthy work environment. But how do you measure your safety performance? How do you analyze the input and output data that is received in your safety program? Leading and lagging indicators for safety EHS Software are metrics that give you those answers. Through two very different methods, they help show which areas of your program need to be improved.

Lagging indicators of safety examples

Lagging indicators are metrics that tell you something bad has happened. By measuring output from past events, lagging indicators tell you that your plant is operating inefficiently. Examples include:

  • Having a safety incident at work (also known as Total Recordable Incident Rate, TRIR).
  • Total number of days missed at work due to injury or illness.
  • Number of health and safety trainings missed.

So if there’s a safety incident at work, a lagging indicator might tell you after the incident what the specific amount of structural damage was or the number of days employees missed over a specific period of time due to that incident. Data with lagging indicators is purely quantitative.

Lagging indicators are a strong metric for looking at an overview of specific data from the past.

Why lagging indicators are important

Lagging indicators in safety are important because they track and measure specific elements that provide a snapshot after the incident. They tell you the impact a specific event had on the business. Since lagging indicators show you the number of incidents, the number of injuries, and the number of days missed from work for employees due to health and safety reasons, organizations can review that data to decide which changes should be made to improve conditions.

Leading indicators of safety examples

The purpose of leading indicators is to notify you before something bad has happened. By tracking leading indicators, you can find out in real-time how specific work tasks are progressing and what is left to be done. Leading indicators in safety also tell you which trainings are coming up, such as team-specific trainings and company-wide Safety Committee trainings. By using leading indicators as a metric, you’re able to stay ahead and on top of tasks, events, and overall operations within your company. You are taking a proactive approach rather than just reactive.

Leading indicators help you to track the following:


Number of courses

The number of safety training courses and meetings

Employee observations

Employee observations and audits, such as safety exam pass rates.


Near-misses, where an employee could have been injured.

Employee engagement

Employee engagement in safety and following general plant maintenance.

For example, let’s say your organization conducts an employee survey. The survey results offer feedback from employees in a specific job at the plant that shows they are feeling overworked and receiving too short of breaks. Shortly after the survey, you notice there is a near-miss incident in that same section of plant. Each of these leading indicators would tell you that a change needs to be made immediately so that employees can feel rested and attentive to their jobs. The hope would be to prevent an incident from occurring.

Leading and Lagging Indicators of Safety

Why leading indicators matter

Tracking leading indicators enables organizations to prevent safety incidents and health hazards. By knowing where particular areas of safety programs need improvement, you can make changes before incidents occur. Organizations can steadily and consistently strengthen and improve safety programs at work.

Leading and lagging indicators work together

When it comes to the workplace, it’s important to use both leading and lagging indicators of safety. Because each measures very different things, each makes up for what the other lacks. Lagging indicators for safety are looking at the past, whereas leading indicators are looking at the future.

By looking at both lagging and leading indicators, you can cover all the safety bases in your company and have the complete picture. Each metric helps you see what needs to be done to improve specific safety elements.

Any data that is collected from both lagging indicators of safety and leading indicators must be followed with action. So after the data is analyzed, that might look like making specific changes to current safety programs and training. Or it might mean a particular machine needs to be replaced or procedures need to be changed. Even employee hours and shifts might need to be adjusted. And as always, in order for these action items to be correctly and quickly implemented, they must be thoroughly communicated to all employees and management teams within the organization.

Regardless of the input data, when both indicators of safety are used together, you’re able to optimize safety performance in the workplace.

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