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Leading Indicators

Saving lives and money in the #mining sector

Safety is stated as one of the highest priorities by many of the world’s extractive companies. Safety in mining has been improving, yet 90 people lost their lives while working for twenty of the world’s top mining companies in 2013 [1]. From a financial perspective, two of the world’s largest Platinum producers reported the combined loss of 134,000 Platinum ounces due to safety stoppages in 2011, which was the equivalent of approximately USD300m [2,3].

Industries such as aviation have made use of leading safety indicators for many years, it is still relatively new to mining safety.

What is a leading indicator?

A leading indicator is a metric that measures the likelihood of a recognised event occurring in the future. They are used by many different industries and disciplines including finance, insurance and safety to enhance the management of risks.

Within mining safety, two types of leading indicator are currently used:

1. Cause indicators

2. Control indicators

Cause indicators

The role of a safety department is to ensure no person within their scope is exposed to a harmful situation. The ultimate unwanted event is for a group of people to lose their lives. Typically, a series of events have to occur before a harmful situation arises. The occurrence of these events can therefore be leading indicators to the ultimate unwanted event occurring.

Control indicators

It is common place for an organisation to identify those risk events which are most likely to cause unwanted safety consequences. Depending on the risk appetite of the organisation, the possibility of those events occurring will either be eliminated by ceasing to undertake that activity or controlled to within a tolerated level. These controls form barriers between the cause events and priority unwanted event. The effectiveness of those controls can be monitored, with their level of robustness forming a leading indicator of the ultimate unwanted event occurring. Often, an organisation will already be monitoring leading indicators as part of their risk management process, but may not have identified them as such.

Leading safety indicators as a benchmarking tool?

To date, no mining organisation has achieved and maintained a ‘zero harm’ record. While standard measures can, and are, used across industries to measure the lagging safety of an organisation (e.g. Fatality Frequency Rate (FFR), Total Recordable Injuries (TRI) [5]), this is not currently the case for safety leading indicators. The International Council on Mining & Metals investigated the possibility of using standard leading safety indicators to benchmark progress across the sector in 2011, however the variation in level of safety maturity between companies was such that a guideline to designing and using leading indicators was published instead to encourage their use [6].

Leading safety indicators as a behaviour driver

Leading safety indicators are more than just a monitor of performance. They can also be used as a people behaviour driver through the utilisation of the principle: ‘what gets monitored gets done’. The suite of leading safety indicators should be reviewed and updated, to reflect the safety culture and maturity of the organisation.

Ownership and data quality

In certain cases, what initially appears to be the perfect leading indicator can often be rooted in a fairly obscure dataset. Rather than spending time and resources on building a new datasets, it is often more beneficial to make use of existing data where possible, expending effort on improving their quality. Not only will this allow for a more robust set of leading indicators, it will also improve the data for it’s original purpose and reduce any additional burden on the data reporters to a minimum. Therefore, as your indicators change, a lasting legacy of improved data quality is left.

Do leading safety indicators work?

So, do leading indicators work to improve an organisations safety? While they are not designed to identify unknown risks, they do allow an organisation to monitor those risks that are understood and faced every day. They also provide the organisation with the motivation to go and improve controls before they fail. Therefore, while leading indicators themselves will not save an organisation from the risks it faces, they provide a proactive trigger allowing you to prevent unwanted events from occurring. [1] ‘Benchmarking safety data: progress of ICMM members’ ICMM, January 2014.

[2] ‘Platinum signs of surplus’ Mining Journal, 25th May 2012.

[3] ‘Anglo American Platinum Annual Results 2011’ Anglo American, 2012

[4] ‘Business risks facing mining and metals 2014 - 2015’ Ernst & Young, 2014.

[5] ‘Health and Safety Performance Indicators’ ICMM, January 2014.

[6] ‘Overview of leading indicators for occupational health and safety in mining’ ICMM, November 2012.

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