The world is in constant search for leading indicators. In safety, leading indicators are valuable as they can help us predict risk and avoid danger in the workplace or environment. At EHS, we do not subscribe to the often mis-used perception that safety meetings, inspections and observations are leading indicators. These are positive safety activities that may prevent an incident but they do not necessarily indicate a change in risk as they change in occurrence.
Instead, we take a more technical definition:
“A leading indicator in safety is a piece of data which changes (anything like a behavioral measurement, a weather pattern, an attitude) that corresponds with and can help to predict and forecast future change in risk and, therefore, unsafe events.“
(Please refer to “The Quest for Leading Indicators – The Holy Grail of Safety” for more information)
We want to know that risk is changing so that we can prepare.
Recently, we administered a survey out to a large number of firms in a single sector. We worked with the Saskatchewan Construction Safety Association (SCSA) to provide their members with a new tool to help measure safety risk and establish a base measurement of the sector.
We chose a safety survey format established by the Institute of Work and Health (IWH), called the Organizational Performance Metric (OPM) survey. The survey attempts to assess the attitudes and feelings (perceptions) of employees. There are dozens of factors that affect the outcomes of the survey, but the point of this particular survey instance was to see where companies are and evaluate the potential of the survey model.
When choosing safety surveys as leading indicators, we looked at all the prevalent ones in the industry including the Safety Climate Assessment Tool (S-CAT), Organizational Performance Metric (OPM) survey, and other versions like the 12-question survey that WorkSafe Manitoba built based on the OPM survey. We determined which safety survey we were going to use using criteria such as convenience, simplicity, and proven reliability.
There are a few reasons why the OPM survey may well be a good leading indicator. First is the direct relationship the questions have to safety. The survey measures a perceived behavior/attitude/performance of a company which is related to safety directly. Second, the survey is highly repeatable and can establish trends within an organization over time. Third, the survey can be widely used and assessed against not only those within the industry but across industries generally. It is the broadness of this survey’s application that is its strength.
The survey contains just 8 to 12 questions depending on how it is administered. Regardless, the survey always contains the same base 8 questions. These questions make the OPM survey a small ask, being able to complete it in approximately 2 minutes in our particular survey instance.
No one company can complete the survey and assemble enough information to consider the survey to be a leading indicator. The survey grows in its strength through developing a large set of contributing companies and compounding this through a large repeat application of the survey over time. Then, in order for this survey to be able to demonstrate leading indicator status, it must be tied to incident performance.
If the surveys demonstrate aggregate alignment with incidents, they can be applied as leading indicators for companies as a warning indicator that can be used to identify and help companies beginning to show signs of concern.
In the next blog, we will be discussing more in depth about the OPM survey!