In the future, employers will need to deal with federal safety law compliance from an entirely new perspective. OSHA has announced that it is moving away from relying on past employer safety data, or lagging indicators, to focus its enforcement efforts on what it defines as leading indicators.

“These lagging indicators have been denounced by safety and health professionals as reactive, and an ineffective means of measuring the effectiveness of an employer’s safety and health program. OSHA has finally agreed,” says attorney Samantha Catone of the law firm of Goldberg Segalla LLP. “As a result of this shift, employers must become well-versed in leading indicators and how to utilize them.”

Up until now, the agency for a long time chose to focus on “OSHA recordables,” or the number of work-related injuries contained in an employer’s OSHA 300 log, to assess safety in workplaces.

“Leading indicators can play a vital role in preventing worker fatalities, injuries, and illnesses and strengthening other safety and health outcomes in the workplace,” OSHA says. ”Leading indicators are proactive and preventive measures that can shed light about the effectiveness of safety and health activities and reveal potential problems in a safety and health program.”

On the other hand, the lagging indicators most employers are familiar with measure only the occurrence and frequency of events that occurred in the past, such as the number or rate of injuries, illnesses and fatalities, the agency points out.

“While lagging indicators can alert you to a failure in an area of your safety and health program or to the existence of a hazard, leading indicators are important because they can tell you whether your safety and health activities are effective at preventing incidents,” OSHA observes. “A good safety and health program uses leading indicators to drive change and lagging indicators to measure effectiveness.”

OSHA also stresses that applying leading indicators can improve organizational performance in a variety of ways. By doing so, the agency says employers may find they can prevent workplace injuries and illnesses; reduce costs associated with incidents; improve productivity and overall organizational performance; optimize safety and health performance; and increase worker participation.

How Leading Indicators Work

To assist employers in learning about the use of leading indicators in more detail, OSHA has published an 18-page detailed guide called: “Using Leading Indicators to Improve Safety and Health Outcomes.”

“Leading indicators are a valuable tool regardless of whether you have a safety or health program, what you have included in your program, or what stage you may be at in your program. OSHA encourages employers to get started today,” the agency states. “There is no ‘one size fits all’ way to use leading indicators. Employers with newer programs may use indicators that focus on starting a program, while employers with more mature programs may use them to monitor how close they are to achieving higher performance targets.”