Measuring Public Safety: Take the Lead

Utility companies are discovering the advantages of strategic public safety outreach. But, to fully realize the benefits, they must break from tradition and make a paradigm shift. The new edict: if you want to improve your public safety outreach, you must change the way it’s measured.

There’s no disputing that measuring performance is crucial to success. It’s an absolute necessity for strategic planning, goal setting, and continuous improvement. The challenge is determining what to measure. How do you know which indicators will help you gauge performance?

While it’s important to determine bottom-line results of your safety program, you must also know how you’re doing at accident prevention. Therefore, you require two different kinds of measurements, and you must understand the value of leading and lagging indicators.

Leading and lagging indicators have their origins in the field of macroeconomics. Generally speaking, these economic indicators are pieces of data used to judge the overall health of the economy—allowing organizations to make productive financial decisions. Measurements like retail sales and building permits are examples of leading indicators, whereas measures such as gross domestic product (GDP) and unemployment figures are considered lagging indicators.

Both types of data provide very useful information. So what’s the difference?

  • Leading indicators communicate change and therefore they can be used to predict and influence future trends.
  • Lagging indicators reflect historical performance, a trend that has already occurred. They are usually easier to measure and as a result they are an excellent way to evaluate the effectiveness of your programs.

Both are essential to measuring performance and establishing a world-class safety program.

In fact, for well over a decade, many corporations have applied this approach to their internal safety programs. These companies have identified key performance indicators (KPIs)—leading and lagging—that have helped significantly improve safety. By many accounts, those who have taken this methodical approach to managing risk have reaped rewards in the millions of dollars as a result of far fewer injuries, lost workdays, and other improvements. The same principles can be applied to utility public safety.

Traditionally, utility companies have utilized lagging indicators to measure their public safety results. Lagging indicators, like number of accident claims and loss-related figures, help determine results but they don’t tell you how to improve. Since leading indicators are predictive in nature, they can help you see how your program is doing and where you might need to make changes to get to the outcome you desire. Ultimately they drive the activities that prevent accidents.

According to safety and risk management professionals, when used in this manner, leading indicators:

  • Allow you to see improvements in performance
  • Measure the positive
  • Enable frequent vital stakeholder feedback
  • Help you predict
  • Improve constructive problem solving around safety
  • Make it clear what needs to be done to get better
  • Track impact versus intention

Public safety leading indicators measure the positive and they’re based in engagement with key audiences (which is an essential element of public safety outreach). For example, with regards to audiences like school children, we measure classroom engagement, safety information retention, and other factors. These leading indicators are precursors to changed behavior and ultimately fewer accidents and greater return on investment.

Similarly, with third-party contractors and other workers, we measure their behaviors, preferences, and perceptions. These KPIs not only act as a barometer for this at-risk segment, they provide valuable information toward strategic planning and continuous improvement—information that ensures a utility meets its public safety goals. In short, these leading indicators help the utility to capitalize upon successes and improve upon any identified gaps.

Furthermore, we know that the value-adds of focusing upon leading indicators—which are more proactive and preventative—include an enhanced image and greater customer satisfaction. When a utility regularly and effectively engages with the public, we see a significant increase in customer satisfaction-related scores—which studies show directly correlates to improved return-on-equity and more favorable regulatory outcomes.

Utilities that understand the public’s safety information needs, and focus on leading indicators, actually create prevention. Succinctly put by one corporate executive, “Traditional [loss] metrics can help companies tell the score at the end of the game, but they don’t help management understand the strengths and weaknesses of their safety efforts and cannot help managers with future success [like leading indicators].” Establishing the right leading indicators will help you take an effective, proactive approach toward public safety—and measuring key lagging indicators will confirm your success. The result is a world-class public safety program (and the many business advantages that come along with it).

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