Using leading indicators to prevent injuries: one firm's progress

Jun 10, 2014

leading indicatorsLeading indicators - workplace measures that precede or indicate a future event - are rapidly gaining interest as a business tool that can help workplaces anticipate and prevent injuries. "We have in fact decreased our injuries and increased our hazardous occurrence and condition reporting significantly," reports Richard Coleman, national director of business continuity and health, safety, security and environment for Brookfield Johnson Controls Canada.

In a session at WSPS' recent Partners in Prevention national conference and trade show, Coleman told delegates that working with leading indicators has generated immediate and long-term benefits for the company, including:

  • raising awareness of hazards
  • addressing reported hazards
  • measuring engagement in prevention efforts
  • promoting the development of new prevention programs.

Benjamin Amick, senior scientist with the Institute for Work & Health (IWH), and Kiran Kapoor, WSPS' director, business and market strategy, shared the podium with Coleman during the session. The company is participating in IWH’s Ontario Leading Indicators Project, which has been working with 2,000 Ontario businesses to identify organizational measures that can help them gauge health and safety performance, identify factors that contribute to injuries, and prevent them from occurring.

Traditionally, workplaces have relied on lagging indicators, "injuries, illnesses, and reportable things like that," explained Amick. "Lagging indicators are the consequences of what you do. Leading indicators help you understand what you can do to prevent lagging indicators from happening."

Kiran Kapoor explained that people commonly use leading indicators to conduct gap analyses, establish baselines, and start conversations within their workplace about what they're doing and not doing, and how they can do things better. "It opens the door," she said.

Why Coleman believes in leading indicators

Brookfield Johnson Controls Canada is a real estate management services provider with 10,000 properties under management, 1900 employees, and 3500 subcontractor companies. "Traditionally, we've looked at the same lagging indicators that everyone else has," said Coleman. The company also used lagging indicators to evaluate subcontractor performance.

Transitioning to leading indicators has helped the company predict injury frequency and severity by identifying and changing at-risk behaviours. "We have made some really great program improvements as a result of our leading indicators program," says Coleman.

The company began moving away from lagging indicators for business reasons. "Our clients are looking to make sure they have the right supply chain partners just as we are, and part of that is finding someone who is not just working safely today but is working safely all the time. Including leading indicators as part of our evaluation/prequalification process for subcontractors provides a better overall picture of safety performance."

How the Ontario Leading Indicators Project works

Each participating firm completes a survey. IWH collates and analyses results, producing a benchmarking report for each workplace that shows its scores against the scores of all participating organizations and, where numbers permit, against scores of organizations in the same sector or subsector.

WSPS is an active partner, serving as a conduit between researchers and workplaces, and engaging in discussions with participants about how they can use the findings in their business. "Our team worked closely with WSPS to understand the scoring and the perceived opportunities," said Coleman.

Still time to join the project

IWH has opened up the project to all organizations, so that everyone has an opportunity to benefit from the research. To participate please visit