From Lagging to Leading–OSHA Finally Focuses on Leading Indicators to Improve Safety and Health in the Workplace

OSHA has long focused on “OSHA recordables,” or the number of work-related injuries on an employer’s OSHA 30 log, to assess safety in workplaces. These lagging indicators have been denounced by safety and health professionals as reactive, and an ineffective means of measuring the effectiveness of an employer’s safety and health program. OSHA has finally agreed, and recently announced a stakeholder meeting to take place next month, where it will gather information to develop tools for employers to utilize leading indicators for safety and health.

As a result of this shift, employers must become well-versed in leading indicators and how to utilize them. This post will provide employers with a jumping off point to understanding what OSHA is calling leading indicators of safety and health in the workplace.

What are leading indicators?

Leading indicators are proactive, preventative, and predictive. They measure events leading up to injuries and illnesses, revealing potential snags in your safety and health program before incidents occur. Lagging indicators, on the other hand, measure the frequency of injuries or illnesses. While lagging indicators inform you about certain failures in your health and safety program after they occur, leading indicators provide you with a proactive and preventative approach, and ultimately, a safer workplace.

OSHA recently launched a webpage aimed at helping employers use leading indicators to improve their safety and health programs. According to OSHA, good leading indicators are based on SMART principals:

Specific: Does your leading indicator provide specifics for the action that you will take to minimize risk from a hazard or improve a program area?

Measurable: Is your leading indicator presented as a number, rate, or percentage that allows you to track and evaluate clear trends over time?

Accountable: Does your leading indicator track an item that is relevant to your goals?

Reasonable: Can you reasonably achieve that goal that you set for your leading indicator?

Timely: Are you tracking your leading indicator regularly enough to spot meaningful trends from your data within your desired time frame?  

OSHA’s webpage includes information on the characteristics of effective leading indicators, finding leading indicators in data that you are already collecting, and how to use them to improve parts of your safety and health management program, as well as an action plan checklist.

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