How to incorporate leading indicators into EHS

“Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.” – Warren Buffet

Leading indicators in EHS are shifting attitudes from reactive to proactive, with the aim of avoiding injury through continuous improvements.

At the same time, lagging indicators are painting a picture of our progress that is important for compliance with traditional measures such as injury frequency and severity, OSHA recordable injuries, and lost workdays. The more reliable our knowledge is the more risk can be reduced in any practice, be that trading stocks and shares as our quotable friend Mr Buffet dabbles in, quitting your job to travel the world, or managing the health and safety of hundreds of employees. So how do we achieve these incredibly useful – but often out of reach – leading indicators for the latter?

Examples of leading indicators in EHS

A leading indicator suggests that an event may happen in the near future, and this prediction is based on what previous trends show. These can be operations-, systems- or behavior-based. As described by OSHA:

“Leading metrics are a preventive set of metrics that reveal the performance of key work processes, operating discipline, and layers of protection that prevent incidents. Leading metrics can provide an early indication of problems that can be corrected before a major process safety incident occurs.”

For example, an injury that involved a conveyer belt six months ago was in fact preceded by a number of hazard observations – not only that, it had been over a month since the last safety audit, and a number of workers were in and out of annual leave. If a similar situation is materializing in present day, in that there’s been a hazard observation report and 20 days have passed since inspection, your EHS management information system may indicate that an injury is x% likely. That’s the kind of metric that EHS professionals are able to really work with in reducing risk, by assigning preventative actions and tying down the possibility of event before it jumps into the Lagging tray.

Popular leading indicators include:

  • Near misses
  • Hazard observations
  • Inspections
  • Training participation
  • Management of Change

According to the National Safety Council, an impressive 61% of study respondents said that using leading EHS indicators was extremely important. “Not at all important” was an option that no participants selected. Furthermore, ISHN reported in January 2017 that to “develop and track key performance indicators” is a top goal for EHS professionals. There are countless resources demonstrating the importance of and what can be done with leading indicators, but how can you go about calculating them?

Leading indicators as part of an EHS Management Information System

Leading indicators are best managed through an enterprise EHS Management Information System (EMIS.) Business Intelligence (BI), or Performance Reporting (PR), is part of all enterprise EHS software solutions worth their salt. However, it’s often underestimated and yet pushed to the back of the queue in specification phases, despite it being top of the list of desired software capabilities revealed in an NAEM study.  EHS professionals should give the BI aspect of management systems the respect it deserves and start thinking about it from the get-go of any software implementation.

Think of your EHS insight as a bit like an impressionist painting made up of dots, smears and marks; you can only understand the bigger picture when you take a step back.

Missing the big picture

Through automating EHS processes and analytics, Best-in-Class firms have a full, real-time view of the business, with trends and leading indicators providing the insight required to quickly make decisions, improve operational efficiency, and reduce operational risk.

Here are some pieces of advice for getting those all-important leading indicators as part of your EHS software solution.

Do you have the data?

Leading indicators are the pinnacle of EHS Management Information, but as Trinity Consultants often reminds us, you need to ask yourself the question “Do we have the data?”

It’s easy to be impressed by graphs and charts in demonstrations, but without the data to drive leading metrics it’s much ado about nothing. An enterprise EHS system will provide the means for data capture that you need to start building up a database of trends or, if you’ve already got a backlog, historical data can be migrated into the new system for use in reports.

Useful = usability + utility

Usefulness considers utility (whether it provides the features you need) and usability (how easy these features are to use.) According to Steve Krug, author of Don’t Make Me Think:

“It [usability] really just means making sure that something works well: that a person of average ability and experience can use the thing — whether it’s a website, a toaster, or a revolving door — for its intended purpose without getting hopelessly frustrated.”

In other words, never over-estimate the abilities of your users. Decide how much effort should be involved in scrutinizing EHS data by considering the skills of your managers and your firm’s capacity to provide BI training.

If you don’t ask, you don’t get

Many vendors can be opaque when it comes to their system’s analytics abilities. As part of your pre-qualification process, speak to vendors to voice your specific reporting requirements – ask for a call with a consultant to make sure the brains are there behind the beauty. Metrics can be explored in more detail further down the tender process, but it’s important to get these three questions answered at the outset:

  1. Can all data captured by the system be reported on? (This is important to enhance the accuracy of complex calculations.)
  2. Where is all the data kept? (This impacts the level of effort required to calculate metrics if datasets are stored in numerous data warehouses.)
  3. What is the ability to export reports to popular file formats? (You’ll want to be able to use the programs you already know work well for internal weekly or monthly meetings such as PowerPoint. This is also important for retaining static reports, if necessary.)

Third party integration will improve indicators quality

Furthermore, the ability to pull in data from third party systems enhances and strengthens the reliability of EHS predictors. Integration with programs such as SAP, Oracle and Microsoft Office should be available as part of a leading indicators project. This is likely something the vendor is best placed to implement themselves (rather than in-house IT teams) but the EHS team should have considerable input into data mapping, always with the end-result in mind.

Push for face-to-face workshops with your vendor

Down the line, we recommend taking part in workshops with your chosen/shortlisted vendor(s) to work through the details of the system. Management Information should take up a good chunk of the time spent on such exercises. Form fields, workflows, actions, document management and KPIs should all be reportable in order to achieve the leading indicators that you’re looking for.

Go through your goals in-depth, and although the web has revolutionized international business, don’t forget that face-to-face meetings still go a long way in facilitating accurate communication.

Consider specially developed technologies such as Power BI

To meet the growing demand for transparency, business intelligence has to be understandable to all users. It’s important not to limit yourself to the tools provided by your commercial EHS solution.

The latest leading (no pun intended!) technology from Microsoft, Power BI allows the time-strapped EHS professional to be in control of the leading and lagging indicators that matter in filterable, shareable and automated dashboards, without the need for extensive analytical skills. Not all EHS solutions afford such flexibility with their in-system business intelligence functionality so considering specialist alternatives will be a worthwhile exercise. If you’re an Office 365 Enterprise user, you’ll likely already have a license for Power BI which Pro-Sapien integrates with seamlessly.

Step into the light…

Mushroom in the dark In summary, our advice is threefold: EHS management information should be suitable, beautiful and irrefutable! With reliable leading indicators, you’re no longer in the dark when it comes to how to use your data proactively. No longer a mushroom, but a healthy tree of knowledge. 

If you’re ready to look further into your possibilities, download our whitepaper on the topic today: A New Perspective On Intelligence For EHS .

A New Perspective On Intelligence For EHS

EHS professionals need to be equipped with reliable information that supports decision-making and that doesn’t only materialize after hours of data crunching and patience stretched.  With Power BI, practitioners have never been so empowered.  Learn about the leading intelligence tool and how you could be utilizing it in our guide.

Download paper »

Hannah Stewart manages the Digital Marketing team at Pro-Sapien Software, and has been with the company since graduating with a BA in Communications in 2015. Hannah has a keen interest in technology advancements and enjoys engaging EHS professionals in conversations about how the profession will be affected by such changes. At Pro-Sapien, Hannah manages all things marketing and works closely with the Sales team to ensure smooth communication both internally and with potential customers. She can be reached via email at hannah.stewart@pro-sapien.com.

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