Leading and Lagging Indicators

Who doesn’t love data?

Indicators are important in the Process Safety sphere, and are a great way of having a snapshot to see what is going on in a system. Taking that snapshot requires a facility to define the key performance indicators to focus on. As Peter Drucker wrote, “What gets measured gets managed.” In the digital world, there are many ways of obtaining data on everything associated with a process, the difficulty comes in figuring out what metrics to keep and monitor and which ones are noise.

The terms leading and lagging indicators are regularly used to describe key metrics. But what does that mean?  

Leading indicators are proactive and give insight into what may potentially happen, while lagging indicators are reactive and tell the story after an incident occurs.

Traditionally, industry relies more on lagging indicators, as is evidenced by the large amount of incident investigations that occur. The Chemical Safety Board is a big example of this. Its tag line is, “An independent federal agency investigating chemical accidents to protect workers, the public, and the environment.” They are deployed once an incident happens to investigate what happened. Examples of additional Process Safety lagging indicators are things such as pressure relief device releases or pipe failures. 

If an incident has occurred, contact us to help with your investigation to put together a plan to learn from the incident!

Lagging indicators are great to learn from, both for the facility and industry, however preventing an incident is cheaper and requires less paperwork. Process Safety leading indicators are sometimes difficult to track because many metrics deal with personnel following procedures and related items. This type of metric relies on self-reporting, which is unreliable at best. There are, however, some metrics that are able to be tracked in a more reliable manner to give insight into the potential failings of a system.

Within the 14 elements of Process Safety Management, there are a few that lend themselves to Key Performance Indicators, or metrics to track. The first leading indicator is Operating Procedures. Are they complete, and are they reviewed on a regular basis? If Operating Procedures do not exist for a process, that is a red flag that there may be a future problem. Are Operating Procedures audited to make sure they are being followed? Although it is a snapshot in time, auditing whether procedures are being followed will show if personnel look at the procedures or if they go by memory (which may or may not be accurate!).

When was the last time you reviewed your Operating Procedures? Contact us to help!

Management of Change is able to be used for many leading indicators. Tracking the number of MOCs that get completed each week/month/quarter within a process and a facility is a good indication if the process is being used consistently. If there is a large discrepancy without a good reason, that may lead to future problems.

Additionally, if a large number of MOCs is expected, for instance, during a maintenance turnaround, and not many are submitted, that would be a red flag to look into. Or, if a large number of MOCs are started and not many completed, that is another potential issue to investigate.

And tracking the number of Emergency MOCs that are completed is another leading indicator. If there is a large number of EMOCs, it may be an indication that process changes are not being fully reviewed and may lead to issues in the future.

How many MOCs were closed at your site? Is it not what you expect? Contact us to develop a user-friendly MOC process!

Training is an indicator that can be used to highlight potential issues. Has training been developed for all tasks? Has all the training been completed for all personnel? Training records will give a good idea of how informed the workforce is, and if they have been instructed in what to do to prevent a process upset, or how to react to a process upset.

What leading and lagging indicators do you use? Let us know in the comments!