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Knowledge at Work - UL Workplace Health & Safety

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Workplace Safety

Using employee safety scorecard indicators to step out of the shadows and into the light

March 25, 2014 - Posted by Eric Glass

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The safety scorecard is one of the most powerful tools health and safety professionals can use to increase visibility. Without visibility, a determination cannot be made on how effective (or ineffective) health and safety programs are within their organization. 

Lagging vs. leading indicators

Winning organizations depend on data and metrics to measure success and bring visibility to how they are performing. But are these organizations gathering the kind of information they need to reach their health and safety performance goals?

An understanding of the most informative performance indicators is a good starting place. Safety professionals acknowledge the differences between lagging and leading indicators and generally agree that leading indicators provide more value in driving an organization to excel. So, if leading indicators are the better choice, why do so many organizations seem to dwell on safety scorecards chocked full of lagging indicators?

Does past performance predict what will happen in the future? Stock market investors will quickly tell you it doesn’t. But lagging safety indicators do allow us to define the number, type and severity of incidents and associated costs. In turn, this provides a baseline for financial reserves needed to reduce financial impact on the organization and ultimately its insurance program, an operational cost directly affecting profitability.

However, even if all of the incidents that occurred last year were attributed to a particular hazard or operation and by utilizing the hierarchy of controls, the organization engineered that hazard or operation out of the equation, how is the safety professional able to predict other future incidents?  Whether hurricanes, car crashes or lost-time injuries, assuming that events will not happen next year because they did not happen last year clearly is not a safe bet for anyone.

Lagging indicators upsides and downsides

Given that lagging indicators provide some valuable information to safety professionals, it is no surprise they remain a staple of the safety scorecard. They are easy to track and understand, not only for the safety professional but for those in the organization who might not be as astute in their appreciation of health and safety metrics. Everyone relates to “we had three lost-time injuries last year and they cost us $210,000.”

Scorecards driven by lagging indicators give organizations a good idea of how well they performed against a benchmark (e.g., reduce injuries by 10 percent over previous year), but do very little to show whether health and safety strategies are working by failing to provide insight on how the rank and file interpret safety and health programs and their degree of health and safety program involvement – the “culture of safety.”

Lagging indicator scorecards cannot:

  • indicate the percentage of employees submitting observations and near misses (warning signs of injuries about to or that almost happened)
  • determine the percentage of corrective action completion (from observation and near-miss reporting) completed in less than 48-hours, thereby preventing future occurrence
  • offer insight on how many investigations were completed in a 48-hour period after an incident occurred
  • provide a find/fix ratio
  • interpret how employees perceive and classify reported hazards
  • trend causal analysis factors associated with incidents
  • monitor effectiveness of health and safety training
These and other leading indicators put any organization in a better position to be proactive by preventing injuries and illnesses and assess how well their health and safety programs are working for them.

The REAL purpose of a scorecard

The quest for the “perfect scorecard” started with the first scorecard. Although there are clear differences between lagging and leading indicators, if used correctly lagging indicators can complement leading indicator-driven initiatives. The real value of the scorecard is the tremendous amount of data in one place – visible to all – the discussion it generates, and how that discussion drives corrective and preventive action.

For example, five scorecards are presented to five individuals in five different rooms with instructions to put together their hypotheses on why certain metrics appear as they are. The five individuals reconvene in one room and share their hypotheses.  Although some will be similar, none will likely be the same.  Discussions begin, questions are asked and improvement efforts start taking shape:

  • Why did the percentage of employees submitting observations drop this month as compared to last?
  • Were there no observations to be made?
  • Did something prevent workers from making observations?
  • Are employees choosing not to make observations?
  • Did something happen that discourages the reporting of observations?

Valid questions like these serve to inform the debate over how to best improve the program.

In sum, as with any safety and health program, a blend of leading (are we reducing our risk?) and lagging (how did we do?) indicators provides the optimal approach. Both shed light on important elements that contribute to the success or failure of a health and safety program. It’s all about understanding and measuring risk and being proactive to reduce or eliminate as much risk as possible. No injury is less traumatic or less expensive than one that does not happen.

Learn how PureSafety, the workplace safety industry’s first learning and safety management system,helps employee safety professionals proactively manage training, safety and compliance.