John Leyland, president of Safety Performance Services, opened his session at the American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Expo (AIHce) in Montreal with a true story of a workplace tragedy that took place decades ago: On a morning like any other, a husband and father went to his job at an electrical utility. But on this day, he made contact with a high-voltage line and landed in the hospital. Two days later, he died, leaving his wife a widow and his 5-year-old son fatherless.

“No mother or father or brother or sister should have to do go through that experience,” Leyland said. “That’s why what we [EHS leaders] do what we do.”

While preventable workplace tragedies still occur every day, Leyland pointed out that the safety landscape has changed since this worker died back in the mid-1960s because today, leading indicators are more frequently used to measure and improve safety performance. Leyland has spent years working with clients to track these indicators and found that, “as leading indicators are being measured effectively, you see the lagging indicators go down.”

During his presentation at AIHce, Leyland stressed that everyone from the company’s CEO and board of directors down to middle management and floor workers must be involved in measuring or understanding leading indicators. Ideas, information and reports travel from the bottom of the organization to the top, while direction, support and accountability trickle down from the top.

“Everyone’s responsible for safety,” he said. “The CEO is responsible for making sure it happens.”

Leyland suggests building a team approach to the leading indicator measurement. A team approach can be beneficial because it includes employees outside the safety committees; presents a development opportunity for employees; builds a sense of community; builds a commitment to safety and pride of place; strengthens internal responsibility system; and breaks down workplace barriers.

“It helps the team members develop a sense of community,” Leyland said, “a community of common interest in occupational safety and health.”