I recently attended an Owner’s Conference for those who contract capital work. Between the general sessions and the breakout forums, safety was a topic often discussed. Presenters (owners and vendors) demonstrating their laser focus care on safety and touting their successes. However, there was a common thread I noticed among the discussions: the apparent definition of ‘success’ was attributed largely, if not only, to Lagging Indicators.
Lagging Indicators are accident/incident rates of low values; such as:
The indicators are "lagging" because they are relying on the passage time to determine the metric and success. The lower the rate, the greater the success, as it was presented.
While minimal values are positive (lagging) indicators of a safety program’s success; when used alone they are not sound indicators. Used alone these indicators can easily be construed as ‘false positives.’ The reason is the Lagging Indicators are only examining results, they are not examining the actions or the approach to safety as work in occurring.
To substantiate a safety program’s success, Lagging Indicators need be complemented with strong Leading Indicators.
Leading Indicators are proactive studies that adherence to safety is the culture. The studies validate that mechanics in the field are applying the level of care to working safely and thus is a large contributor to why the incident rates are low.
Leading Indicators, such as:
One could reasonably argue a project may be largely successful due to being ‘fortunate’ vs employing a sound program.
Many years ago, as a CM, I served on a project where the Owner rewarded the trades when no accidents occurred over a two-week window. This reward perplexed me; because it rewarded folks for not getting hurt, even though the opportunities for people to get hurt, daily, was plentiful. The intent of the reward was to recognize a positive attitude to safety. While there may have been minimal accidents on the project, it wasn’t due to a positive attitude being employed. The project was just lucky.
Only with the balance of both Leading and Lagging Indicators can an articulate conclusion be rendered if the safety program is successful.