Executive opinion - October 21

22 September 2021

Imagine if you could not just monitor incidents, but predict them and prevent them using data. The Health and Safety Executive looks at this possibility.

SAVING YOUR organisation money and keeping your workforce healthy and safe… HSE, as part of the data programme ‘Discovering Safety’ are working with academics and the construction industry to find an evidence base for using ‘leading indicators’ to prevent people from being harmed at work. Leading indicators are measures linked to the proactive, preventative things we can do to keep people safe. These can include things such as providing protective clothing to less obvious ones such as promoting healthy lifestyles and looking after mental health.

We hope this work will help avoid some of the accidents that happen in construction – a high-risk industry that still sees 40 fatal injuries to workers each year, 61,000 non-fatal injuries, 2.1 million working days lost due to work-related injuries or ill health and a total cost to the UK economy of around £1.2 billion each year.

Safety has come a long way through industry being open about what goes wrong, and learning lessons from accidents and incidents, statistics like this show there is a long way to go before harm is reduced to zero. The next step is to prevent things going wrong in the first place, according to Steven Naylor, the data scientist leading this project:

If, by getting the construction industry to be more proactive in how they manage risks, we can achieve even a 5% reduction in these metrics, it would mean two lives saved every year, over 3,000 serious injuries and over 100,000 lost work days avoided and cost savings to the UK economy of the order of £50 million.”

Safety professionals in industry have understood the link between proactive measures and better safety outcomes for some time. But proving this with hard evidence has been elusive.

The ‘Leading Indicators’ project is a key part of our Discovering Safety programme. Steven explains: “Using leading indicators means being more proactive and understanding the processes that lead to things going wrong, not just reacting when they do. We’re making the case for developing safety processes based on what we do, rather than what we don’t.”

Rigorous collection of statistics on accidents, incidents and near misses is now standard, and drilling into this data can bring forth useful insights into root causes. Our Leading Indicators project goes further by using sophisticated software to show the causal link between positive interventions and better safety and wellbeing at work.

We are supporting the construction industry to gather data on the effectiveness of preventative measures such as training, communications and health and safety management practices – as well as the important ‘lagging indicators’ such as accident frequency rates and lost time injuries.

By measuring the number of times that things are done right, we hope to find and demonstrate the correlations between good practice and reducing harm. This evidence-based approach will allow employers to show their workforce the benefits of the positive measures they put in place.

Steven’s team is using not only readily available data but also data from the pre-construction stage of a project. This is more challenging to obtain but provides insights that will help the new, proactive processes work in the real-world, complex construction workplace, where the workforce comprises not only contractors, but client representatives, subcontractors and designers.

One thing that’s becoming really evident is that lots can be done at the design and planning stages, before construction work begins,” says Steven.

Having more proactive and more data-driven safety management processes will mean that contractors have:

  • Measures of health and safety performance available in real-time (or nearly)

  • End-to-end processes that start with the raw data being generated and end with it being auto-collated and reported on

  • Measures that are more directly linked to agreed actions, for example, documented risk hotspots triggering targeted inspections.

Come along to our free Data-driven Insights Webinar on 19 October!

In this free webinar a panel of Health and Safety Executive experts, including Steve Naylor alongside collaborators will present how we aim to use data and analytical techniques to provide new insights and approaches to help to reduce injuries and fatalities from workplace activity. This includes a section to introduce our work on Leading Indicators. We’ll talk through how techniques could be applied to your workplace and answer any questions you might have.

You can register for this webinar and watch it on demand here:

Register your interest here and secure an invitation

You can also find out more about our work in this area from our YouTube video: