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Adam Bannister is a freelancer journalist who has held various editorial positions, including as editor of SHP's partner publication for security & fire safety, IFSEC Insider (formally IFSEC Global).
May 11, 2023

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Leading indicators and preventing serious injuries and fatalities: ISN’s Ryan Rodriguez previews SHE 2023 talk

OSH professionals will be urged to interrogate their safety culture, not just overall incident rates.

Organisations are increasingly measuring leading as well as lagging safety indicators in efforts to better protect their workforce.

Whereas lagging indicators like recordable incident rates are correlated with earlier changes in other variables, leading indicators can give clues about the likelihood of incidents happening in the future.

Ryan Rodriguez CSP will later this month urge Safety & Health Expo (SHE) attendees to harness leading indicators in order to reduce serious injury or fatality (SIF) rates.

Rodriguez is an ESG team lead for ISN, a global contractor and supplier information management specialist, and is based in ISN’s Dallas, Texas headquarters.

Ahead of his SHE talk in London, the risk and compliance management expert spoke to SHP about the difficulties posed by measuring leading indicators and the benefits of getting it right. UK-based ISN Senior Director David Bibby also provides input on variations in how effectively various countries embrace these metrics.

SHP: Can you elaborate on what you’ll be discussing in your presentation?

Ryan Rodriguez, ISN

Ryan Rodriguez (RR): At ISN, with our 700-plus hiring clients and 75,000 contractors and suppliers, we have collected a lot of data. We’ve noticed that some of the best performing, most cutting-edge organisations are doing some sort of measurement around the safety culture rather than just focusing on lagging indicators, a much more traditional approach to safety.

Instead of focusing on recordable incident rates and what’s happening when somebody gets injured, [we’re urging SHE attendees to] measure those leading indicators.

Let’s ask not only employees, but contractors as well, how likely it is that a serious injury or fatality – or SIF – will occur at that particular company within the next 12 months.

That tells us and the buying organisations what actions need to be taken in order to mitigate the base level risk at that particular organisation – and for every company it’s going to be different.

SHP: Presumably leading indicators are tougher to evaluate than lagging indicators?

RR: Yes, 100%. Because leading indicators are still at the forefront of safety in the industry, they are still a bit nebulous and many companies don’t know exactly how to track a leading indicator.

When you say you want to measure safety culture at your company, more traditional people in the field might look at you sideways and not know what you mean or be curious as to how you think you’re going to measure that safety perception.

And so it’s really important that your surveys have been validated and made reliable in terms of data science.

Lagging indicators are very simple. Did you have an incident, yes or no? Then you divide by the number of hours worked. It’s very black and white.

It’s much more difficult to measure leading indicators and generally takes more time to establish the processes and get things going.

But you’ll hear a lot of talking heads mention that simply reducing your total recordable incident rates is not the end all, be all. [It doesn’t reflect the] difference between somebody getting a cut on their finger and maybe needing two stitches versus having a life-altering injury or even dying.

We want to make sure that we’re getting people home safely at the end of the day. And one way of doing that is moving towards leading indicators and taking action before people get injured.

SHP: What are the biggest challenges with collecting high quality data of this nature?

RR: One of the biggest things we found that could make this less successful than intended is not sending a message from upper management saying: “Please participate, we need to hear what you think about what’s happening at the organisation.”

We’ve found that sending the message from the top has been beneficial [in boosting survey participation levels].

Organisations also have to do something with the data, because if people are saying really positive or negative things and they find that nothing is done with the information, that’s where people feel discouraged.

And when you do your second and third iterations of the survey, whether it’s 12, 24 or 36 months from now, people will be much less likely to be honest with you. They’ll say: “What’s the point if it’s just falling on deaf ears?”

So you have to do something – whether it’s just acknowledging “here’s the information we received, we looked at it as a team and decided not to make any changes at this time”, or “we’re implementing the following improvements to our system”.

[This approach] gives the safety team and upper management the data they need to work towards zero [serious] incidents.

SHP: Given ISN’s global reach, it would be interesting to hear your take on whether particular countries or regions are embracing leading indicators more effectively than others?

RR: I think it’s been fairly evident that the widespread use of ISO standards in the EMEA [Europe, Middle East, Africa] and Asia-Pacific regions makes companies in those regions more amenable to the idea of doing these leading indicators.

The US has a more lagging indicator-focused mindset. That’s just the nature of our regulatory body, OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration].

David Bibby: There’s been a greater focus for a longer period of time in the UK on the idea of competence being a crucial element [in reducing SIFs], by going beyond just checking policies, procedures and certificates. This person might have a certificate that allows them to operate this [machinery], but it doesn’t mean they’re competent to.

It’s really a combination of due diligence with interviewing people and sense-checking things. And I think that’s led to more awareness, which helps drive down the potential for serious incidents occurring.

The high-consequence events are more embedded through the reporting structure in the UK, whereas in the US, if it’s not a fatality, it’s [just classed as] a day away from work.

Ryan Rodriguez will be speaking in the afternoon of Tuesday 16 May at Safety & Health Expo in the OSH Operational Excellence Theatre. The event takes place 16– 18 May at the ExCel, London. Register to attend here.

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