The Predictive Power of Leading Safety Indicators: A Proactive Approach to Workplace Safety

Understanding and Leveraging Leading Safety Indicators for Enhanced Workplace Safety and Efficiency

Key Takeaways:

  1. Leading safety indicators provide predictive measures of safety risks, enabling early interventions.
  2. Corrective actions, employee training, and safety-related employee participation are among important leading indicators.
  3. Careful tracking of leading safety indicators can significantly improve safety program performance and foster a culture of safety.
  4. Developing and applying leading indicators should be done according to the specific needs and data of each organization.
  5. Incorporating EHS software can facilitate the process of gathering and analyzing leading safety indicators, paving the way for preventative actions and improved compliance.


While traditional methods of assessing workplace safety often focus on reactive measures such as incidence rates or days away from work, leading safety indicators offer a forward-thinking approach to improving occupational safety. According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), leading safety indicators are predictive metrics that enable proactive interventions before incidents occur, giving a fuller picture of workplace safety than metrics like the total recordable incident rate (TRIR), lost time incident rate (LTIR), and workers’ compensation costs alone can provide.

What Are Leading Safety Indicators?

Leading safety indicators are measures of events and activities that occur prior to safety incidents. They act as an early warning system, allowing identification of potential risks and implementation of corrective actions before an incident occurs. Examples include the number of training hours completed, the number of hazards identified, and the average time it takes to close out corrective actions.

In essence, while lagging indicators describe outcomes that have already taken place, leading indicators forecast potential safety issues. They enable proactive measures to be put in place, instead of simply reacting to incidents that have already occurred.

The Power of Leading Indicators: An Everyday Analogy

The concept of leading indicators can be illustrated with a simple analogy: car maintenance. When it comes to preventing breakdowns, low engine oil and rising engine temperature serve as leading indicators, while the number of breakdowns is a lagging indicator. Preventative actions such as regular oil checks, oil changes at recommended intervals, and routine maintenance are much more effective than simply waiting for a breakdown to occur before addressing issues.

Developing Leading Safety Indicators: From Insight to Action

Creating leading safety indicators requires a customized approach, as they are individual to each company and must be developed based on actions and events that correlate with changes in lagging indicators. Several key areas provide fertile ground for creating such metrics, including corrective action metrics, employee training metrics, worker participation in safety meetings, behavior-based safety metrics, the number of new hazards identified over a given period, and the number of new controls added over a similar period.

Monitoring these metrics can lead to valuable insights. For instance, a company might find that a large backlog of overdue corrective actions correlates with recurring safety problems. Or it might discover that employees who have completed more training hours experience fewer incidents. Such insights can then guide corrective actions and preventive strategies.

Why Tracking Leading Indicators is Critical to Safety Management

Monitoring leading safety indicators is a proactive strategy for preventing workplace injuries. These indicators help identify safety risks that need addressing before incidents occur, thus improving performance on lagging safety metrics. Some of the key benefits include demonstrating the organization’s commitment to safety, improved safety program performance, increased efficiency and productivity, reduced costs associated with workplace incidents, and fostering a culture of safety.

Getting Started with Leading Indicators

The development of leading indicators requires internal Environmental, Health, and Safety (EHS) data. OSHA recommends starting with your top hazards and reviewing injury logs and hazard assessments. Any chosen metrics should adhere to the SMART principle, i.e., be Specific, Measurable, Accountable, Reasonable, and Timely. Companies can develop leading indicators in three primary ways:

  1. Using data already collected: For example, training attendance or near-miss data.
  2. Controlling a specific hazard: For instance, daily housekeeping checks correlating with reductions in slip, trip, and fall incidents.
  3. Improving an element of your EHS program: Leading indicators can strengthen safety programs, especially in terms of worker participation, hazard identification, and hazard prevention.

The Role of EHS Software

EHS software plays a crucial role in creating and tracking leading indicators. It enables the collection of a wide variety of EHS data and helps identify patterns over time, thus providing a comprehensive view of safety program performance. EHS software platforms can gather data from compliance calendars, incident reports, corrective actions, root cause analysis findings, and internal audit findings, providing EHS leaders with the data they need to devise preventive actions, maintain compliance, and keep their safety programs on track.


Leading safety indicators offer a proactive approach to workplace safety. They provide early warnings of potential safety issues, enabling companies to act promptly and reduce workplace risks. By tracking these forward-looking indicators, organizations can improve their safety programs’ performance, foster a safety culture, increase efficiency, and cut costs associated with workplace incidents. Ultimately, the use of leading safety indicators represents a significant shift from reactive to proactive safety management, providing a more rounded and effective approach to ensuring workplace safety.

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