Most safety professionals recognize that an important key to improving safety performance is through effective utilization of leading measures. Measurement is an integral part of good management practice. However, although we have measured safety performance for years, we have not traditionally done a good job of measuring specific safety activities and the safety process itself. There are various strategic reasons to measure leading indicators of safety performance. For example, measures may be used to hold people accountable for safety, as predictors of future safety performance, and as specific tools to help employees, at all levels, better understand and improve the safety process.

There are additional strategic reasons why organizations find it desirable to implement leading safety measures. When designed well, with employee input and participation, these measures can serve as an influence to increase employee motivation for safety. Well designed and executed leading measures may also serve as a catalyst to drive positive change in an organization.

Proactive vs. Reactive Mindset

Traditional approaches to measuring safety are highly reactive. The primary focus is on injuries and injury rates. Proactive approaches focus on analysis and improvement of the safety management system. Due largely to these traditionally reactive measures, management tends to focus on the lack of injuries. In a proactive approach management focuses on improving the overall management system. In accident investigation, the reactive mindset is demonstrated by the focus on symptoms, such as unsafe acts and unsafe conditions, rather than a focus on identifying and correcting the root causes.

A proactive mindset impacts all areas of the safety management system. The primary reason for training is based on improving the system, versus training based on a response to regulatory requirements. In a proactive mindset, recognition for safety is also based on a systematic effort to improve the management system. In a reactive mindset group recognition for safety is commonly based on history, i.e. the number of incident-free days or work hours since the last injury. Recognition for individuals tends to be negative such as reprimands for unsafe behaviors.

Establishing Metrics to Drive Safety Performance

By strategically establishing leading safety measures an organization can influence the development of a more proactive mindset and culture. The metaphor of driving can be applied to the way we measure safety. If one practices defensive driving, and drives with a proactive mindset, they may use techniques such as these examples from the Smith System that encourage the driver to 1) Get the big picture, 2) Aim high in steering, and 3) Keep your eyes moving.

Similar to driving a car, there are parallels to establishing good safety measures. These example points from the Smith System all involve using one's eyes and thinking ahead. The one key involves keeping your eyes moving while driving. This involves an awareness of what is all around, front, sides, and back of the vehicle, and simultaneously maintaining a space cushion around the vehicle whenever possible.

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