A 2015 survey of Occupational Safety & Health and Ergonomics professionals found that many organizations may experience a disconnect between what metrics management uses for measurement and which proactive metrics professionals feel would be more useful. For example, a majority of respondents indicated their ergonomics program performance was measured most on trailing indicators of risk such as recordable injury rates and workers’ compensation claim numbers. The same respondents, however, felt that leading risk indicators such as task analysis scores or near miss/hit reports would be a better representation of how well the program was performing.

What might be driving that disconnect and what are some leading risk indicators that might provide a better performance picture?

Best Practice Guide for Leading Health Metrics in Occupational Safety and Health Programs [click to access], a 40+ page guide on the subject from the American Industrial Hygiene Association, defines a leading metric as “a measurable, meaningful, actionable, evidenced-based indicator that can be used to monitor predict, influence or manage exposures, hazards, actions and conditions of work that may impact worker health and well-being.”  The guide explains that traditionally, the most commonly used tools to identify health concerns and hazards, prevent exposure, and control risks that lead to injury and illness are lagging indicators of health and safety in the workplace.

Lagging metrics, sometimes referred to as retrospective indicators, measure after-the-fact occurrences, such as injury and illness rates and prevalence or risk of illness or disease. Unfortunately, lagging metrics are not preventive, as worker health has already been impacted. Because of the lag time between exposure and adverse health effects, such metrics can give false reassurance when the physical manifestation from an adverse exposure is not yet present. Furthermore, an absence of documented illness or disease does not necessarily equate to an absence of hazardous exposures in the work environment or inherent in the work. Also, lagging metrics do not generally drive actions or behavior changes that can reduce workplace risk.

Alternatively, leading metrics can assist with prediction of and influence on health and safety performance related to occupational illness and worker health. Many common leading metrics currently in use focus on safety-related injuries and outcomes. Leading health metrics—those that focus on disease prevention and health preservation—are not as prevalent, often due to the complexities related to human health. However, leading health metrics could be extremely useful and important in promoting behaviors and actions shown to correlate with improved worker health.

The document provides table style references for numerous leading indicators that organizations may wish to consider incorporating into their total metric picture.

Need help developing metrics for your ergonomics efforts? Email us at [email protected].