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Health and safety: measuring safety performance

Measuring up your safety performance

March 14, 2019  By By the CCOHS

Looking closely at how you measure your organization’s safety performance is an important step toward improving it. However, finding the best way to measure safety performance can be difficult. Using leading and lagging indicators to measure safety performance can be an effective way to prevent workplace incidents.

This process involves measuring both your bottom line safety results and how well your workplace is doing at accident and incident prevention. By controlling leading indicators, such as the amount of safety training you provide, you will control your lagging indicators, such as your injury rate.

Lagging indicators
Lagging indicators measure a company’s health and safety performance by tracking accident statistics. Examples include:

  • injury frequency and severity
  • lost workdays
  • incidents and near misses
  • workers’ compensation costs

These metrics are used to evaluate the overall past effectiveness of your workplace health and safety program. The numbers tell you how many people got hurt and how badly.


The pros and cons
The downside to using only lagging indicators of safety performance is that lagging indicators don’t tell you how well your company is doing at preventing incidents and accidents. Lagging indicators only report on what has already happened – that is, they “lag” behind reality.

For example, when an employer sees a low number of lost workdays they may believe that they do not have a safety issue. This false sense of security leads them to ignore the possibility that there are health and safety issues in the workplace that could contribute to a future increase in lost workdays.


Lagging indicators show when a desired safety outcome has failed, or when a health and safety objective has not been achieved. The learning comes from recognizing a past mistake, and results in the implementation of reactive rather than proactive measures.

Regardless, it is important to monitor lagging indicator data because evidence of increasing incidence of work injury and/or illness is a signal that improvements are needed in the workplace safety system. It’s worth noting however, that many workplaces have too few injuries to be able to distinguish real trends from random occurrences, and there is also the possibility that not all injuries are reported.

Leading indicators
Leading indicators are proactive, preventative, and predictive measures to identify and eliminate risks and hazards in the workplace that can cause incidents and injuries. Examples include:

  • the percentage of managers with occupational health and safety training
  • the percentage of workers with health and safety training
  • the frequency of health and safety meetings
  • the frequency of ergonomic assessments
  • the frequency of safety audits

When using leading indicators, it’s important to make your metrics based on impact. For example, don’t just track the number and attendance of safety meetings and training sessions – measure the impact of the safety meeting by determining the number of people who met the key learning objectives of the meeting/training.

Why use leading indicators?
Leading indicators are focused on future safety performance and continuous improvement. These measures are proactive in nature and report what employees and management are doing on a regular basis to prevent injuries. Leading indicators help identify and understand the factors affecting the risk of injury. Use of this information will help identify ways to prevent the occurrence of work injury and illness.

Leading indicators that are connected to specific occupational health and safety program goals introduce a real level of accountability for those goals. But beyond tracking progress towards achieving specific goals, leading indicators can also measure and monitor their relative importance of health and safety within the organization.

Leading indicators can work to complement the more traditional outcome-based measures of lagging indicators, and can be used to balance out some of their limitations.

Use lagging and leading indicators
Measurement is an important part of any management process and forms the basis for continuous improvement.  Using lagging and leading indicators together will help provide a solid, bigger picture on what is and is not working in your occupational health and safety program. Therefore, you should plan to use a balance of predictive leading indicators as well as the more outcome-based lagging indicators. Every organization and workplace is unique, so it is important to look at which indicators will provide you with the best information.


The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) promotes the total well being of workers in Canada by providing information, training, education, systems and solutions that support health and safety programs and injury and illness prevention.

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