Leading indicators of health and safety failures project

Much industry guidance has been published over recent years, specific to different industry contexts, on how to better use leading indicators of health and safety performance to support assessments of the adequacy of workplace risk control measures.  

HSE’s large data archive detailing the findings of all of its proactive and reactive workplace inspection and investigation activities (its inspectors carry out over 20,000 workplace inspections in a typical year) provides an invaluable intelligence resource for investigating key precursors to failures in health and safety occurring in workplaces. 

Such intelligence offers opportunities to identify those specific precursors most closely associated with different categories of failure event. This insight, if made effectively available to industry, is likely to be invaluable in helping them shape decisions regarding how best to prevent future failures in health and safety and provide the early warning signs to look out for indicating more serious failure events might be potentially around the corner.  

The availability of such operational intelligence might even enable operators to predict with a certain level of confidence where and when the next significant failure event might take place across their operations. 

The leading indicators of health and safety failures project being delivered as part of the Discovering Safety Programme aims to adopt a driven-approach to generating such intelligence using HSE’s data archive generated as part of its regulatory activities as a reference dataset.

Industry drivers

An industry consultation exercise undertaken by the programme team at the outset of the programme to help shape its content identified a number of key challenges for industry in this area and aspirations to meet their health and safety responsibilities differently. The desire for assessments of industry operating experience and associated health and safety performance to be less reactive and more proactive, considering how health and safety is done day to day and what could rather than did happen, was a common aspiration identified by many of those consulted.

This was recognised to require a shift to greater use of leading indicators of performance, use of indicators that focus on things done well as well as poorly, better recording and use of near miss intelligence, i.e. learning from what might have happened as well as what did, and better differentiation between luck and good/poor management.

Many of those consulted also expressed a desire to move away from one size fits all health and safety and towards an approach that better considers local contexts, ultimately leading to more tailored and targeted risk control and preventative measures and use of key performance indicators. Defining what effectual risk control looks like and identifying potential early warning signs of ineffectual risk control was regarded as key to monitoring performance and maintaining control standards.

Aims and objectives

This project aims to use relevant HSE inspection intelligence to investigate key precursors of failures in health and safety and risk control in different industry contexts, including major hazards related, process safety related and COSHH related. A further aim is to consider how such insights might be best packaged and shared with industry to help inform their risk assessment, monitoring and surveillance activities.


Relevant data and related metadata will be sourced from HSE’s operational data archives including red flagged RIDDOR incident reports, the findings of subsequent reactive inspections and investigations, and relevant proactive inspection data of the same workplaces. Material on each loss of control event in the data archive will be reviewed and the context in which the event occurred will be captured. This will enable the hazards and key precursors to each event to be identified. Traditional frameworks used to support the carrying out of risk assessment exercises of these kinds, including bow tie analysis, events and causal factors analysis, fault tree analysis and failure mode and effects analysis, will be used. Hazards and key precursors for different categories of loss of control event will then be synthesised.

Key benefits

More holistic consideration of H&S performance measurement by organisations (beyond simple use of lagging indicators)

Better snapshot of the broad direction of travel from a health and safety perspective and return on health and safety investment

Greater degree of reassurance that risks associated with low frequency high consequence events are adequately controlled

Better targeting of improvement measures

Better identification of poor performing areas of operation and identification of targeted ways to improve

Avoidance of undesirable behaviours stemming from overly focusing on lagging indicators

Lay foundations for developing predictive analytic tools to support risk assessments