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Safety Metrics, Excel Report Dashboards, Leading & Lagging Indicators

Posted by Katy Lyden on August 21, 2020 at 10:00 AM

One of the most important parts of managing a safety program is tracking and evaluating progress toward improved workplace health and safety. Key performance indicators or KPIs allow you to do that consistently and predictably.

By establishing a series of metrics and a process for data collection, reporting, and analysis, you’ll have an easier time preparing required reports as well as assessing and communicating your organization’s effectiveness at managing workplace health and safety.

Safety Lagging Indicators

When it comes to safety KPI metrics, lagging indicators such as TRIR, DART, Lost Work Day Case Rates and the number of recordables (compared to a previous time in history) have been widely used to try and show the overall health of a safety program. The only problem with this is that none of these lagging indicators are really helpful at doing this.

Lagging indicators like these are failure-focused measurements which only show a company’s past injury occurrence and frequency. They don’t provide a good picture of the health of the safety culture or of the overall safety program but yet they are still used as if they do. Granted, having a lot of injuries is never a good sign however, you need to know more than that if you want to see the real picture.  

Still need to be convinced? Ok. Let’s say a company has two locations:

  • Location A with its 1000 employees has worked 2.5 million hours for the year and has experienced 20 recordable level injuries which gives them an incident rate of 1.6.


  • Location B with its 250 employees has worked 512,500 hours for the year and has experienced 6 recordable level injuries which gives them an incident rate of 2.34.

During the meeting, upper management looks at the two incident rates and determines that Location A must have a better safety program and culture because their incident rate is lower than Location B’s.

But is that really true? No, because the rate is largely based on the number of hours worked and not on a safety based activity or the severity of the injuries, etc.

Need more convincing? Ok, let’s say the 20 recordable injuries experienced by Location A have all been serious with at least two amputations and one fracture while the 6 recordable injuries experienced by Location B have all been much milder injuries like sprains and strains. Do you still think Location A has a better culture and safety program than Location B? Probably not.

Unfortunately many in upper management don’t want to be bogged down with the details. They want to easily be able to look at a set of numbers and determine “good” or “bad”—which is one reason why lagging indicators like these are still so widely used.

What’s ironic is that while lagging indicators don’t really show the health of a company’s safety culture, what does give a glimpse into the overall health of the safety culture is having management who isn’t interested in the details.

So what do you do if your company isn’t interested in making a change to using leading indicators? You find ways of incorporating other information to your message to better illustrate the situation.

Here are two simple ways you can do that.

  • ChartInstead of calculating one incident rate for the whole company or location, calculate multiple incident rates, one for each department or team. That way when one team is experiencing a high number of incidents. Here’s an example of what that might look like. As you can see, the overall TRIR is 5.36, but look at how it’s broken out. You can clearly see that one of the reasons is Team C.
  • When presenting the number of injuries, don’t just provide a number. Provide a number with the type of injuries included. That way you’re letting people see the severity of the injuries. Here’s what that might look like:
Location A Location B
20 recordables 6 recordables
5 amputations 3 strains/sprains
6 lacerations requiring stitches 2 eye irritation
9 fractures 1 bug bite

Safety Leading Indicators

To paint a good picture of how healthy a safety culture or safety program really is, you have to include the key elements that go into making up that culture. These are the things that your workforce does every day to prevent injuries and illnesses from occurring. The reason why leading indicators give a clearer picture of the health of a safety culture is because when they aren’t getting done or aren’t being done well, there will normally be a rise in injuries. Why? Because these activities are being done to prevent injuries so naturally when injury prevention activities aren’t happening, the result is usually higher incident rates.

It may seem simple to look at your safety program and start tracking the things that you’re doing to prevent injuries, but how you do that is really important. To help with this, OSHA has provided a terrific resource called Using Leading Indicators to Improve Safety and Health Outcomes which is full of information on leading indicators and how to use them to improve performance.

Let’s look at a few leading indicators and why they’re important to include.

Training Information

Tracking the number of courses/subjects being presented to the workforce and how many people completed the training is a great metric to track because everyone knows that good training sets the foundation for a safer workplace.

Near Misses

When you track near misses, you’re not only showing how observant your workers are but you’re also giving yourself a crystal ball into the future because today’s near miss is tomorrow’s injury. The more near misses your workforce submits, the more issues you can correct before they can become injuries.

Employee Audits and Inspections

Tracking how many audits and inspections have been completed is one thing, but tracking the number of findings generated and resolved is another thing entirely. Doing this will provide a good picture of how robust your inspection and audit program are—but also how quickly issues get resolved.

Safety Meetings

Tracking safety meetings is a great leading indicator, if the right information is tracked. If you simply track the monthly safety committee meeting, you’re missing out on a bunch of other really good data! For example, if you include toolbox talks given on the shifts, one-on-one safety talks with individual employees, management or leadership safety meetings, etc., you’ll be providing a direct correlation between safety meetings and safety performance.

Safety Work Orders

Maintenance and safety go hand in hand so naturally being able to track the number of safety work orders submitted is important. But, instead of just presenting the number submitted, include information like how many were still open after 30 days of being submitted, the type of work order they were, etc. If your maintenance department is understaffed or if your workforce seems to think maintenance takes forever to get things done, having this data might help both of those situations.

JSAs and/or SOPs

Job Safety Analysis (JSA) and SOPs are important tools for a strong safety culture but just creating them isn’t enough, they actually have to be used and routinely reviewed to keep them in good shape. Tracking the number of JSAs and/or SOPs that were created and reviewed each month is a great leading indicator because it shows that not only is finding and resolving hazards a priority but it’s become a formal process, too.

Safety Metrics Dashboard: Moving Beyond Excel

Safety professionals remain some of the most dedicated users of Excel. Given all the numbers that go in and out of your office every day, it seems like Excel is the right choice – it’s an incredibly adaptive tool for handling large sums.

That said, when it comes to developing a smart safety metrics dashboard, Excel is the wrong choice for the job. These days, new and improved dashboards are excelling in areas where your spreadsheets fall short. Here’s why that is.

Safety Dashboards of Yesterday

Let’s take a moment and think back to the days when safety metric dashboards weren’t really a product yet. Those were the days when EHS professionals were expected to make do with the tools they had available in order to turn raw numbers into results.

So, many safety professionals turned to one of the smartest tools in their hard drives for displaying and processing numbers: Excel.

It wasn’t a flawless system by any stretch, but still, it allowed you to see and process your safety metrics and data in one place, which was an improvement over using a collection of reports.

Safety Metrics Dashboard: Using Excel

Safety pros remain some of the biggest users of Excel dashboards. And to be fair to Excel, it is an incredibly smart tool to compute numbers and display results. With the right Excel skills and the right plug-in tools, you can work magic on a simple list of numbers.

It also provides an easier way to see and update metrics than a simple Word document. At any time, you can update an Excel sheet and have all your linked reports update simultaneously, eliminating dozens of sources of data.

Why Excel Is the Wrong Choice to Manage Safety Metrics

That said, for safety managers with their eyes firmly fixed on the future, Excel is the wrong choice for a truly effective safety dashboard.

Excel is a smart tool, but may not always be efficient. Excel will only derive what you tell it to derive – otherwise, your list of numbers remains nothing more than a list of numbers. And in fast-moving EHS environments, that just isn’t going to cut it anymore.

The safety dashboards and EHS software of today are smarter than that. They allow you to gather real insights from your data that might have otherwise remained invisible. More than that, it does a lot of the brute processing work for you so that you can apply human ingenuity to big picture problems.

Safety Metrics and Leading Indicators

Nowadays, you can find environmental, health and safety metrics publicly available through news releases and sustainability reports. Although valuable, these metrics alone don't drive improved performance since most of the data indicate what has already happened. You want tools, like safety management software, that help you shape the future of your program.

Do Lagging Indicators Help?

Lagging indicators such as lost time, incident and severity rate are inadequate measures of safety. These data points give information on the number of people who were injured in an incident and the severity of their injuries, but do not prevent accidents and incidents. 

Lagging indicators are necessary as part of a comprehensive safety metrics plan. However, it is important to focus on safety leading indicators in order to strengthen your EHS program.

These metrics should consider preventative and proactive safety measures to help manage and prevent safety-related incidents. In order to ensure a return on safety investment, it is of best practice to track the following leading indicators: 

  • CAPA action items overdue
  • Audits and inspections completed on time
  • Number of audits with compliance issues
  • BBS Participation Rate
  • JSA occurrence count

Improving Your Workplace Culture with Safety Metrics

When you are preparing training KPIs via your training tracking software, it should not be just about signing everyone up for safety classes, but also setting goals and performance targets. Training should be followed up with surveys to see the level of employee engagement.

They gives EHS leaders feedback regarding employees and the type of safety culture in the workplace. Employees would answer specific questions about strengths and weaknesses of the safety metrics and employers get a detailed list of the improvements that need to be done. 

Safety metrics help ensure your organization is in line with regulatory standards while operating safely. Every workplace is different and these metrics should be set up to meet specific program needs. Safety metrics help identify hidden risks such as protrusions or wet areas that could cause slips, falls and hazards. These metrics are particularly important for identifying specific safety issues before accidents happen.

To optimize your safety reporting, it is important to track when and how historical incidents were resolved. 

Continuous Improvement

Communication is an important aspect in the workplace, especially when it comes to environmental, health and safety.

All mediums including internal memos, reports, statements and toolbox talks are important leading indicators. The allocation of resources towards ensuring workplace safety is another important leading indicator.

Resources are not only monetary, but also include time and personnel allocated to making a workplace safe, even on a limited budget. This helps provide insight in regards to the amount of resources needed to build a safe workplace. 

4 Key Metrics Every Safety Department Should Track

Every department in your company uses metrics to track how well an area is performing, and your safety department is no exception.

It sounds logical to assume that your safety operations are effective as long as you don’t have any reported accidents. But the number of incidents doesn’t paint the whole safety picture. For one, this doesn’t help you to predict potential issues. In addition, near misses and “quick fix” hazards often go unreported, but they’re equally vital to providing you a bird’s eye view of your organization’s safety performance.

You can rely on key performance indicators, or KPIs, to ensure you’re fostering a strong safety culture at all times. In addition to reported incidents, here are four key metrics you should keep an eye on:

Employee Training

Ensuring your employees are up-to-date on company procedures is crucial in keeping them engaged in your safety culture. You can use safety training software to track their training completion and know exactly when it’s time for a refresher course.

Safety Audits and Inspections

Regular health and safety audits are part of doing business, but missing or failing even one can lead to fines, budget complications, time crunches, safety breaches, and loss of productivity. Keeping up with your inspection and compliance schedule can help your department function more efficiently. But staying ahead of schedule can help ease some of the pressure by giving you more time to be thorough in your audits and inspections.

Near Misses

As mentioned earlier, near misses often go unreported, either due to a lack of proper reporting channels or the lack of prioritization. However, near misses can help you prevent future incidents if you can find an efficient way—like near miss software—to track them.

Corrective Actions

It isn’t enough to fix issues; rather, you should document them in case related incidents arise. Tracking how you fixed one problem can help you learn to solve other similar problems more effectively. Plus, it helps hold other employees accountable for their part in the situation.

Key Takeaways

We know the power of data. And when you need a smart safety metrics dashboard, Excel just isn’t smart enough. That’s why we developed EHS Insight to help you take control of all of your health and safety challenges in one easy-to-use tool. That way, you can stop fighting with your numbers and start using them to deliver real safety results to your employees and management.

The most important thing to remember is that no matter what KPIs you use to measure performance, how you present them matters. You never want to paint a picture that’s not quite accurate because doing that doesn’t help with growth and improvement.

If your organization is not quite ready to move away from using lagging indicators, that’s ok. It doesn’t mean you can include a few leading indicators in your overall KPIs nor does it mean you can’t provide some context to those lagging indicators to make them more meaningful which will paint a clearer picture. Put these KPIs to good use in your organization, and see how your safety operations improve.

If you’ve got data to track but don’t have a way to do it, that’s where EHS Insight's EHS software can help! Want to see our software in action? Get in touch today to start the conversation.

Topics: EHS Software, Performance Improvement, Workplace Health and Safety, Risk Management, EHS Management, Training Management, Audits & Inspections, Safety Culture, Safety Metrics

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