Lag to Lead
blog 21
March 12, 2017

Lag to Lead

An important cognitive change for companies wanting to move forward in today's new environment is moving from an emphasis and dependence on lag indicators and move towards identifying and effectively using lead indicators. This has proven very difficult and it's so easy to slip back into the comfort of lag indicators however, there's a couple of crucial reasons for this:

We're led to believe, and often totally buy into the idea that historical statistical data can be relied on to measure the future. This is flawed reasoning because there often hasn't been adequate allowance for bias in the statistics or the fact that the sample size is so small that the statistic is meaningless.

Companies will look at lost time rates which may be biased by a wide range of issues and on a small number of incidents, from a small group of workers, and over a short time span and from this draw major conclusions. They will then often also argue that these have been statistically proven.

Looking at lag indicators like accident rates makes it easy to blame the person having the accident rather than the system which allowed it to occur.

Put simply, lag indicators are simpler. It's a bit like rear-view mirror. Unfortunately, they are also too easy to manipulate afterwards by such practices as 'losing' data. You can easily set a lag indicator such as a certain percentage decrease in LTIFR (Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate), however developing a meaningful lead indicator (such as what percentage of reported safety near misses or risks had corrective actions identified and completed in the last month?) is far more dependent on understanding the organisation.


So why change? Well doing what we've always done will give us what we've always got. Standing still in health and safety is in practical terms going backwards, as expectations from both WorkSafe and clients are changing so rapidly.

So, a challenge for the future for all companies wanting improve their health and safety performance is to have a vision for health and safety, think broader and look forward. The Health and Safety at Work Act calls for more of a team approach to health and safety. Consider who your stakeholders are and what their needs and expectations are, and have a holistic approach. Think about the community you are in and where you want safety to be placed.

Think about what would be your ideal as a health and safety target and then think about things which could indicate you are moving in the right direction.

If you want line managers or foreman to get more involved, find objectives that are meaningful to them, for example, think about what percentage of site walk arounds identified safety issues (either negative or positive). Ask how often a job process changed so that it could be done safer e.g. mobile scaffold used instead of a ladder.

Lead indicators with measurable results makes good health and safety practice. They drive a company forward and are a great opportunity for participation of both workers and management.