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Leveraging Lagging Indicators for Proactive Construction Safety


Lagging indicators tend to have a bad reputation as they are largely seen as a measure of how poorly safety has been managed on the job site. However, when used correctly as part of a system they should be a result of the inputs you start with before work begins.Your action indicators determine your lagging indicators as part of the same cycle of continuous improvement. They are the measurable outputs of actions after you have taken them and the result of everything that you do or don’t do on-site.

You can then take these lagging indicators and develop a corrective action for a negative output, feeding them back into the top of the continuous improvement cycle and improving outputs in the future.

That makes them a powerful tool for any contractor or site manager when combined with leading indicators and midstream indicators to develop a complete picture of safety on the job site.


Understanding lagging indicators

Every piece of information and data that we gather from our actions on-site can be used as a lagging indicator and fed back into the planning stage. For example, injury frequency rates, incident reports, workers' compensation claims, equipment damage reports, safety audit results and the processes that support them are all classed as lagging indicators.

These indicators allow us to inspect our actions and improve them in the future, as per the cycle of improvement:


Continuous Improvement Cycle: Plan, Do, Check and Act. Helpful with leading and lagging indicators in construction safety.

We check our actions, and the data that comes from them, and the results of this checking are lagging indicators.

We then use these indicators to act and use the insights gained to improve our plans for the future. This is how the improvement cycle works, and how the analysis of lagging indicators as part of an after-action review allows us to elevate our operations to plan and do better in the future.

Lagging indicators can be both positive and negative indicators.

An example of a traditional negative lagging indicator is analyzing the cause of an incident to take actions that stop it from happening again in the future. James Alexander, CSP, CHST, and Lead Safety Technology Consultant at HammerTech, shared an example from his experience:


"I worked for a company where welders on scissor lifts frequently experienced incidents due to unintentional contact with the lift's controls. These incidents ranged from minor injuries to near misses, but unfortunately, no corrective actions were taken at the time.

It wasn't until a serious incident occurred that the company finally implemented a solution: equipping all scissor lifts with protective boxes covering the controls. This fix was then incorporated into pre-planning, ensuring that only lifts with these boxes were ordered, and employees were trained on their proper use.

This example demonstrates how lagging indicators, such as the series of minor incidents, could have been used to drive safety improvements proactively, rather than waiting for a more severe incident to occur before taking action."


Traditional (Negative) Lagging Indicator Examples

Total lost work days
Restricted work days
Number of fatalities
Injuries/illness rate
Asset/property damage
Vehicle mishaps
Near-miss incidents
Chemical releases
Workers' compensation claims
Experience modification rate (EMR)


Alternatively, lagging indicators can be positive, looking at what actions worked as planned and contributed to successful safety operations on site.

James gives us a theoretical example of how this might work as follows:

"Consider a street-sweeping company that has successfully avoided hitting parked cars for three consecutive months. They might ask themselves, 'What have we been doing right to prevent these accidents?'

Upon reflection, they realize that installing sensors on the sweepers and proactively coordinating with the city to block off streets during cleaning have been effective measures. These lagging indicators highlight the company's successes and can be incorporated into their future planning to ensure continued safe operations."


Positive Lagging Indicator Examples

Successful safety measures
Effective equipment modifications
Proactive coordination with stakeholders
Incident corrective actions
Inspection data analysis
Positive trends in safety performance
Successful implementation of safety plans
Employee safety training completion rates
Safety recognition programs


 The value and limitations of lagging indicators

The usefulness of each type of indicator can vary substantially, and each kind of indicator may serve a different purpose.

To illustratethere are two main lagging indicator data points used by all contractors:

  • Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR) – The number of incidents that occur on-site per year per 100 employees, recorded against the total number of hours worked. The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires this information by law.

TRIR Calculation: The number of recordable injuries & illnesses times 200,000, divided by the employee total hours worked.

  • Experience Modification Rate (EMR) – An insurance rating that compares a construction company’s workers’ compensation claims to the industry average, influencing their insurance premiums.

Experience Modification Rate scale used by insurance companies to determine incident and injury rates of GCs compared to the average.

Both TRIR and EMR are considered to be passive lagging indicators that tell us only the most basic information about what is going wrong, but not why it is going wrong. Without access to greater detail, contractors are unable to effectively provide feedback on plans and make positive changes.

However, there are more proactive lagging indicators that contractors can analyze to identify and address specific safety issues:

  • Incident Corrective Actions: When a problem occurs on-site, contractors can use the lagging indicator data to identify the root cause and develop preventative measures to be implemented in the next planning stage, reducing the likelihood of future occurrences.

  • Inspection Data: By collecting and analyzing inspection data, contractors can identify trends and specific risk categories that require attention. This information can then be used to make necessary improvements during the planning stage.

In both cases, contractors go beyond merely reacting to incidents and instead proactively seek to identify and address the underlying causes. This approach demonstrates a commitment to fostering a proactive safety culture, which, according to research from the University of Manchester and University College London, is the most critical factor in effective safety management performance.

With so much variation and difference of purpose, it leads to the obvious question of how can we assess the value and limitations of different indicators in a useful way.


Analysis and trends in lagging indicators

When we look at lagging indicators proactively, instead of just focusing on the passive ones, we can start to see patterns and changes in how safely we operate on-site. By digging into the trends in our lagging indicators, we can uncover safety issues that might not be immediately obvious.

We know that lagging indicators are all about things that have already happened, and we can't go back in time to change them. But that doesn't mean they're useless! The information we get from lagging indicators can help us figure out where we need to improve and guide us in making decisions that will boost our safety procedures and reduce risks on future projects. When we use lagging indicators this way, we're turning them into leading indicators that drive positive change in our safety management.

The more thoroughly we analyze our lagging indicators, the better we can pinpoint areas that need our attention and come up with targeted plans to address them. However, lagging indicators can't do all the heavy lifting on their ownTo unlock their full potential, we need to bring technology into the mix. Technology can help us collect, process, and connect all the data we need to get the most out of our lagging indicator analysis. Without it, we'll always have some gaps in our insights and reporting.

So, while lagging indicators might seem like they're all about the past, they can be a powerful tool for shaping a safer future on our construction sites. We just need to approach them proactively and use the right tech to back us up.

Until these challenges are overcomethe full potential of lagging indicator analysis cannot be unlocked.


Overcoming challenges with lagging indicators

While lagging indicators such as injury rates, incident reports, and inspection outcomes are the norm in the industry, they often fall short of providing a comprehensive picture of safety performance.

Many construction sites remain stuck in a reactive safety posture due to fragmented processes and outdated methods of tracking and analyzing these indicators. Common challenges in leveraging lagging indicators include:

  • Not having a defined goal – Construction is often bad at connecting results to actions and activities, and understanding what results to expect if a certain plan is followed. Abstract goals like “reducing incidents” must be broken down into concrete steps, and to do that lagging indicators must be connected to plans. If this doesn’t happen, you are relying on luck.

  • Data fragmentation – Too often, contractors don’t use shared data points that pull from the pre-planning stage, through execution and then into lagging indicators. This means that the data which comes out often has no relationship to the planning stage and therefore can’t be used effectively to make changes in the future.

  • Single-aspect planning – Many companies use a ‘point solution’ approach or software that only handles one aspect of safety and is not integrated into their other safety programs or software. These do not communicate with each other or share data, which is why an all-in-one, comprehensive safety system is an ideal solution.

  • Outdated tracking methods – Lagging indicator data should be easy to get and the gathering processes should be seamlessly integrated into construction operations. However, in many cases outdated practices on site make it impossible to gather lagging indicator data in a useful way, making it a waste of time.

Put simply, everything has to correlate and you need enough data to make it worthwhile. To do that, you need to implement processes that build data gathering into your day-to-day construction operations.

Historically, lagging indicator analysis has suffered from the previously mentioned challenges and has been of limited use in helping contractors know whether their risk controls are effective, or if they are simply getting lucky.

Today, technological solutions are stepping in to help with effective planning, data gathering, and analysis on a scale that unlocks the full potential of lagging indicators as a risk management tool.

Illustration of Paper-heavy processes as the old way of construction safety. & All-in-one platform is the new way of construction safety technology.


The role of technology in analyzing lagging indicators

Even when all of the above challenges are avoided, lagging indicators regularly provide too many data points for humans to analyze effectively. For example, a human might not connect the dots from near misses spread over months or years.

Software on the other hand can build trends out of huge quantities of data to extract more value and insights from existing lagging indicator processes to enhance safety outcomes.

By integrating technology to streamline data collection, visualization, and analysis, the industry can uncover hidden trends, identify improvement areas, and make data-driven decisions that are simply not possible without it.

Embracing technology in construction safety can allow you to integrate lagging indicators into an interconnected safety environment and benefit from a continuous improvement cycle.


The future of safety management

The future of safety management in construction will continue to evolve, but it is becoming increasingly clear that there is huge scope for positive gains to be made by taking a technological approach to lagging indicators.

The cycle of improvement is possible when the following steps are taken:

  • Embed the mindset of continuous improvement at all levels of the general contractor, from the trades to supervisors to senior management

  • Find a good SaaS company to work with to implement the right systems for planning, doing, checking, and acting on-site in a way that embeds data gathering and analysis into every stage.

  • Connect that process  effectively in a way that feeds back into your system

  • Start gathering data consistently and analyzing it in a way that helps you achieve your stated goals on-site.

All of that is only possible if everyone from the client to the contractor to the trades all buy into the proactive safety management mindset.

That means that management needs to take on the idea that we will be better next month than we were this month and next year than we were this year. It requires supervisors who are willing to speak up and bring ideas forward, but also solicit ideas from the people that are doing the work to improve safety management.

That also means making sure we aren’t discouraging people from reporting negative results and getting involved with the process of continual improvement.

The benefits of everyone being an active stakeholder in safety management on the job site are clear. Mission-critical construction is a great example of what is possible. Safety innovation is taken seriously by everyone and seen as a joint responsibility from the top down because clients demand it.

The result is that mission-critical projects suffer an average of one incident requiring treatment per 100 workers per year, compared to the Bureau of Labor average of five.

Once this foundation is in place, the sky is the limit. Proper use of lagging indicators can then one day lead to all sorts of innovations including wearables, artificial intelligence, and more.


Embracing lagging indicators and technology for a safer future in construction

Implementing lagging indicators into your system is a great way of identifying problems in your operations and resolving them. It is a key step on the path to measurably achieving a safer construction industry, and technology is vital to maximizing its effectiveness.

Ultimately, by optimizing the use of lagging indicators through software solutions like HammerTech, the construction industry can move beyond mere compliance and cultivate a proactive culture of safety excellence. HammerTech's platform is designed to

  • help contractors seamlessly integrate lagging indicator tracking and analysis into their daily operations

  • gain actionable insights

  • generate comprehensive reports

  • identify trends

  • pinpoint areas for improvement

  • make data-driven decisions. 

By embracing the power of lagging indicators and technology, construction professionals can take proactive measures to build a safer future for their projects and teams. Request a demo today to learn more about how HammerTech can support your safety initiatives and help you leverage lagging indicators for improved safety outcomes.