Proactive or Reactive: Prevent Injuries Today or Clean Up Tomorrow?

Teamwork foreman man and woman wearing protection face mask and safety helmet using laptop and holding clipboard checking containers in cargo ship for import export, Industrial container cargo concept.

Safety is purely a numbers game for some employers. These decision-makers treat safety as a budget to be balanced via a tally of metrics at the end of each quarter or semi-annual cycle.

The system they employ generally uses injury totals, workers compensation payouts, and OSHA citations to dictate where the company’s safety budget should be directed to address safety concerns. If a particular machine is known for catching shirtsleeves and causing major lacerations or removing fingers, then the increasing injury totals tell the employer to use their safety budget to install guards and signs around the equipment.

These data points are known as lagging indicators — a series of post-incident safety statistics that encourage employers to address issues as a reaction to what has already happened. There is no doubt tracking lagging indicators is necessary for internal safety teams. But relying solely on lagging indicators to shape safety goals impedes employers from addressing safety issues efficiently, perpetuates false narratives about an organization’s safety, and allows a number of preventable safety injuries and deaths to go unchecked.


Misleading Numbers and the Lie of Less Injuries

Counting fewer injuries in a given time period does not in itself mean an organization is operating safely. Only counting the number of injuries fails to account for the unsafe work practices and procedures still happening. Workers will be lucky to complete these tasks without issue — right up until their luck runs out. What an operation was able to save in a nominal amount of time and money is a complete wash with the emotional and physical costs of a grievous employee injury or death.

This is true when using any lagging indicators to solely make safety decisions because lagging indicators are devoid of necessary context. Any attempt organizations make to address safety concerns based on lagging indicators will be inherently reactive. And the reactive measures to address these issues will fall short of addressing the issue’s root cause.

Let’s say an organization is considering buying higher-rated equipment to cut down on employee injuries on worksites. It’s a complete waste of valuable time, money, and resources if the new safety equipment is being ordered consistently without any safety education about how to use the equipment nor checks to determine the equipment is being used properly.


Leading the Pack, Not Following the Herd

Employers and decision-makers need the full picture surrounding their safety situation to create actionable and effective solutions. This is possible by adopting a proactive safety culture and focusing on leading indicators to complement lagging indicators.

Leading indicators are metrics that tell employers whether an organization’s safety and health measures are effective at preventing incidents. These include statistics on safety education and workshop attendance, routine safety audits, maintenance records, equipment usage logs, employee engagement surveys, and other tools and insights that show how an organization prepares their employees to work safely. The point of leading indicators is to measure performance incrementally now to course-correct for future success.

Insights on how an organization is performing in the present creates opportunities for supervisors and stakeholders to intervene before safety incidents arise. It is far more effective and efficient for an employer to schedule a second training or revise a process based on leading indicators than to halt production and deal with the fallout of an employee injury.

Taking action with leading indicators, setting safety goals, and establishing a safety leadership team creates a valuable culture of safety within an organization. A strong safety culture boosts employee morale and puts organizations in control of their safety instead of operating in the dark and pivoting to address inadequate data from lagging indicators. This saves lives, saves money, and saves face as employers continually improve the safety of their workplace.

Optimum Safety Management provides the information and services to help companies develop safety leaders and improve overall safety performance. For more information on how Optimum Safety Management can assist with your businesses’ safety needs, contact an expert today, or reach out via phone at 630-759-9908.

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