Proactive leading indicators for occupational safety, health and wellbeing

News update - August 2020
The scientific article and guide have been published over the summer of 2020 (see links below)

Many thanks to all for their contributions (valuable input and/or feedback) to the ISSA project to develop a set of (proactive) leading indicators useful for organizations committed to Vision Zero. We received input and feedback from companies from 20 sectors and more than 20 countries, as well as professional organizations, and some key individual professionals. The results of the project are a set of 14 proactive leading indicators, two for each of ISSA's seven Golden Rules for Vision Zero, as well as guide. There are three options for their measurement, varying from a simple checklist approach to more advanced quantitative measurements.

About the project 

This was an international research and development project funded by the International Social Security Association (ISSA) sectors to develop a set of fact sheets for companies to use regarding proactive leading indicators for occupational safety, health and wellbeing. The development process involved attaining information and evidence from companies applying a Vision Zero strategy ( and other frontrunner companies, scientific and popular literature, and the expertise and experience available in the project team and steering committee. Drafts of the first fact sheets were evaluated by companies and discussed at various conferences in the fall of 2019, and a Report and scientific Article were published in the summer of 2020. 

Leading and lagging indicators for occupational Safety, Health and Wellbeing can be used in a complimentary fashion. The objective of this project was to develop a tool that focused on proactive leading indicators as defined as follows: 

  • Lagging indicators focus on outcomes such as reported accidents, injuries, sickness absence (e.g. disease, physical and psychological health issues), premature retirement and fatalities. Lagging indicators can be used to target improved aims (e.g. fewer incidents or reduction of sickness absence), but do not necessarily provide clues as to how to achieve such aims. 
  • Leading indicators focus on processes such as auditing, provision of formal training, OSH meetings, employee surveys (perceptions, attitudes, behaviour). However, valid and reliable leading and lagging indicators in themselves do not necessarily improve prevention efforts if they do not result in actions, evaluation and learning, e.g. are auditing and training put into practice and evaluated to improve health, safety and wellbeing. 
  • Proactive leading indicators reflect the actionable, current and ongoing processes, activities and performance that are doing more than merely controlling existing risks, but focus on recognising, creating and using opportunities for improvement. Examples of this could be ensuring that safety, health and wellbeing are an integrated part of regular production meetings and that there is follow-up and learning from reported issues - both issues that reinforce good practice and those that require corrective action.

For the purposes of this project Safety, Health and Wellbeing are defined as follows: 

  • Safety at work is characterized by the active promotion and maintenance/sustainability of safe conditions and behaviour at work to sustain injury free workplaces, and the active prevention of sudden and unexpected adverse events such as accidents, incidents and near misses.
  • Health - Physical health at work is characterized by the active promotion and maintenance/sustainability of healthy conditions and behaviour at work to sustain workers’ physical health and working capacity, and the active prevention of chronic, unhealthy working conditions (including ergonomics and industrial hygiene). 
  • Wellbeing - Psychological health at work is characterized by the active promotion and maintenance/sustainability of psychosocially healthy conditions at work to sustain individuals’ positive mental health and ability to work productively and creatively, and the active prevention of chronic or acute unhealthy psychosocial conditions.

Research teamProfessor Gerard Zwetsloot (Project Manager, independent researcher and consultant, Netherlands); Senior Research Pete Kines (National Research Centre for the Working Environment, Denmark) and Professor Stavroula Leka (University of Cork, Ireland); and in cooperation with Associate Professor Aditya Jain (University of Nottingham, UK).

Funding: The project is funded by seven 'International Sections on Prevention' of the ISSA, as reflected by representation in the steering committee (below).  

Steering Committee: Secretary General Helmut Ehnes (ISSA Mining); Bernd Treichel (ISSA Secretariat); Sven Timm (ISSA Information for Prevention); Anja Renner (Special Commission on Prevention); Prof. Karl-Heinz Noetel and Petra Jackisch (ISSA Constuction); Gisela Derrick & Alan Stevens (ISSA Education); Jens Jühling (ISSA Energy), Martina Hesse-Spötter (ISSA Energy and Chair of Special Commission on Prevention); Christian Felten (ISSA Transport); Sigrid Roth and Udo Schöpf (ISSA Trade, Goods Logistics and Port Handling).

Communication: Preliminary results were presented and discussed at various conferences such as: ISSA Mining – 50 year Conference (South Africa, September 2019); Working on Safety (Austria, September 2019); APA/NIOSH Work Stress and Health (USA, November 2019); Vision Zero Summit (Finland, November 2019), and various ISSA network meetings.

Participation: Throughout 2019 the project team involved a number of Vision Zero committed organizations in the project. Organizations were involved in two ways: 1) January-June 2019 - sharing experiences with proactive leading indicators for safety, health and wellbeing that the organizations had experience with, and/or 2) September-December 2019, providing feedback on the first draft set of seven leading indicator fact sheets proposed by the project team. Organizations that were interested in participation were invited to contact the project team, and were sent a web-link for the fact sheets and an on-line survey for providing feedback.

Time frame: November 2019 to April 2020. The fact sheets and guide were proposed to be launched at the XXII World Congress on Safety and Health at Work in Toronto, Canada, in the fall of 2020. However, due to COVID-19 and the postponment of the congress, they were launched in an ISSA Webinar on August 27, 2020.