For years the construction industry measured health and safety using lagging indicators. Construction Owners Association of America (COAA) members realized for companies to achieve the next level of health and safety performance, they must focus on leading indicators. However, before workplaces can jump into leading indicators, they must first understand the different responsibilities of each job role. From there, they can set goals that drive continuous performance improvement for many years.

Responsibilities for Each Job Position

The goal of understanding the many responsibilities for separate job titles is to create a balanced system where tasks (like tracking, trending, and reporting) are completed without slipping through the cracks. COAA created a best practices guideline to help people in different positions understand their responsibilities more clearly to achieve improved performance.

The five key job positions are:

  • Owners
  • Contractors/Employers
  • Line Managers/Supervisors
  • Health and Safety Professionals
  • Industry (in general)

Owners are responsible for using the Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) Model. They establish performance targets using a yearly plan, communicate initiatives to achieve those targets, and create systems and practices to monitor progress. After reviewing outcomes, they come up with new targets. They define health and safety performance improvement expectations and site-specific requirements in documents. Owners include leading indicators in pre-qualification questionnaires and discuss performance improvement targets in contractor meetings. Defining methods, accountability, and scope is yet another task they are responsible for, and they can make spreadsheets, databases, and other tools available to track metrics.

Contractors and employers share contract requirements and set clear expectations and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). They put agreed tracking, trending, and reporting tools in place that are compatible with the owners, and they put processes together to manage any gaps. In addition, employers train line managers on leading and lagging indicator awareness and provide feedback loops to workers.

Line managers and supervisors lead others in step changes over incremental changes by actively participating in hands-on performance improvement behaviors. They encourage direct reports with clear goals and open communication and hold crews accountable.

Health and safety professionals put appropriate tools into practice to track leading and lagging indicators. They put together stringent databases to track performance, ensure the program and databases are available to be seen, and proactively owned by line managers and supervisors.  

The industry must align and agree on key leading indicators and identify which ones have made a difference in past incidents. In addition, they must avoid focusing on lagging indicators that have been around for decades and prevent arguments on recordability issues.

Performance Improvement Guidelines

Once responsibilities are assigned to each position, a workplace can work together in setting a goal. The workplace goal will depend on the culture and maturity of the company. For this reason, this best practice guideline offers a range of improvement ideas.

The starting point of establishing a goal is to figure out where the workplace is currently sitting on a performance level. Measuring the current performance level and setting a goal can move lagging indicators to leading indicators. Setting a performance improvement goal can be based on small internal changes or large external industry changes. It is important to set a goal that is specific, measurable, attainable, and adds value.

Goals for monitoring and reporting tools should also be set up in a way that leans toward a more proactive approach over a reactive one. 

Here are examples of leading indicators:

  • Manager active participation (e.g., introductions to orientation sessions, attending walkabouts, site inspections, audits, and meetings)
  • Supervisor active participation (e.g., defining and evaluating safety activities, measuring participation in activities, screening supervisors to find gaps, providing soft skill training)
  • Worker active participation (e.g., Behavior Based Observation, measuring programs in place and their effectiveness, measuring general implementations, then more specifics on the number of participants and how many trained)
  • Contractor management (e.g., documenting pre-qualification and selection processes, measuring compliance to minimum standards, counting the number of kick-off meetings and mobilization audits completed)
  • Communication forums
  • Compliance with baseline legislation and standard practices
  • Hazard identification processes
  • Field-level hazard assessments
  • Focus audits and inspections conducted
  • Tracking outstanding action items
  • Training conducted
  • Proactive Alcohol and Drug (A&D) testing
  • Employee perception surveys
  • Near miss reporting
  • Trend identification
  • Health programs

Here are examples of lagging indicators:

  • Measuring the number of fatalities
  • Lost Time Injury Frequency (LTIF)
  • Total Recordable Injury Frequency (TRIF)
  • Total Injury Frequency (TIF)
  • Total Recordable Occupational Illnesses Frequency (TROIF)
  • Severity Rate (SR)

Starting a Safety Performance Improvement Journey

Detailing job responsibilities, setting goals, and using balanced reporting criteria set workplaces on a successful path to using and adopting leading indicators to compel continuous health and safety improvement. Organizations should decide their starting point and choose their leading and lagging indicator targets while remembering a proactive approach is the safer approach.



Workplace Health and Safety Performance Improvement Guide, COAA BP Performance Improvement