Observation and its Correlation with Incident Rates

  • To assess whether hazards are being correctly identified in the company, the number of reported unsafe behaviors can be compared with incident rates.

Source: Enablon Insights

To know if we will meet our goals, it is not necessary to look at where we are because it is better to visualize where we are going. Even if your health indicators are good (blood pressure, body mass index, etc.), it does not mean that you are doing well, if you started to eat poorly or if you sleep less. The same applies to the occupational safety . Lagging indicators (injuries, days away from work, etc.) only give the organization an idea of the past. They do not say whether security is improving.
Leading Indicators provide a better idea of safety performance. They measure proactive, preventive and predictive actions, enabling organizations to continuously improve safety. Leading indicators show where things are going. Examples include near-miss reports, participation in safety training and observations.
The number of reported observations of unsafe behaviors can be used as a leading indicator because observations can reveal workplace hazards that may lead to incident risks. These risks can be mitigated to improve safety.

Lagging Indicators Remain Helpful

Many accept the importance of leading indicators over lagging indicators. But be careful not to discard lagging indicators. First, some regulations require organizations to report incident rates and other lagging metrics. Second, lagging indicators help measure results to see if the activities measured by the leading indicators are effective.
The comparison of the number of observations of unsafe behaviors and incident rates is a good example of the correlation between leading and lagging indicators. By comparing the number of observations and incident rates over time, you can get a good idea of whether the observations provide valuable information about hazards. Note that there may be a gap between the evolution of the indicators. For example, if the number of observations has been high since January, incident rates may start to decrease only from April onwards, as it may take time to fully implement control measures.
There may be different conclusions from the correlation between the number of observations and incident rates.

Here are some examples:

– Observations are high, incidents are low: Observations can successfully identify hazards, which are being successfully addressed to reduce the risks of incidents.
– Observations are low, incidents are high: The low number of observations may mean that hazards are not being identified and addressed, which is leading to high incident rates.
– Observations are high, incidents are high: Incidents are high because observations are of poor quality and do not help to identify hazards.
– Observations are low, incidents are low: The low number of observations may mean that safety performance has improved so much that there are fewer new risks to identify. Low incident rates also reflect improved safety performance.
Also, note that correlation may not imply causation, for example:
– Observations are high, incidents are low: Perhaps most of the hazards were already known due to periodic independently conducted hazard assessments, and have been addressed; while many observations may not be valuable and do not reveal new hazards.
– Observations are high, incidents are high: Observations may successfully identify hazards, but control measures do not successfully reduce the risks of incidents. The problem is with risk mitigation, not observations.
In addition, simply aiming for a higher number of observations may not produce the result that companies are looking for. They should focus on encouraging and rewarding participation and good quality observations. This will result in greater worker acceptance and help strengthen the safety culture.
Finally, EHS mobile apps can encourage frontline workers to report observations that may reveal hazards, which helps improve safety.