Some of the more common leading indicators for safety performance include near-misses and safety training according to Alberta Government publication Leading Indicators for Workplace Health and Safety: a user guide.
In this article, we propose adding stress levels to the suite of leading indicators adopted by forward-thinking organizations as well as a strategy to implement and objectively measure employee stress levels to create a cultural change to enhance safety performance.
Leading Versus Lagging Indicators: A Primer
Lagging indicators provide a rear-view mirror perspective of performance, for example, previous quarter financial results. Lagging indicators are used to compare planned versus actual goals and objectives. Leading indicators provide a probable forecast of meeting goals and objectives. For example, we know that texting and driving makes an accident 23 times more likely (source: thinkinsure.ca). Therefore this behaviour becomes a leading indicator for vehicle-related incidents.
Connection Between Stress and Safety
Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety has stated that stress can result in employees making errors in judgment and inhibit reaction times (source: https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/psychosocial/stress.html). There is, however, a direct link between stress levels and safety according to the Institute of HeartMath’s 2012 publication Creating Coherent Sustainable Workplaces. The Institute led a study involving 200 pharmaceutical professionals and found that by implementing stress management techniques, there was a 41% – 70% reduction in safety incidents.
Measuring Stress Levels in Employees
To use stress levels as a leading indicator of safety performance, one needs to be able to measure it and track it objectively. Many organizations, including Alberta Health Services and the United States Military, use technology to track the level of stress. One such product is the Institute of HeartMath’s Inner Balance™ unit, which measures the heart rate variability (HRV) to determine the level of stress experienced by the user.
The resulting graph gives instant feedback to the user on his or her level of stress. The top figure shows the HRV response of an individual experiencing frustration and therefore exhibiting anxiety. The lower one reveals the HRV response of the individual who has managed to shift into a state of physiological coherence or an unstressed condition.
If an employee is shown to exhibit frustration, a simple technique may be initiated, resulting in lowering the stress levels and perhaps even establishing physiological coherence or unstress.
Implementing Stress Level as a Leading Indicator
A cultural shift (change or transition management) will be needed to achieve measuring and tracking employee stress levels. The most efficient manner in which to affect permanent change is to integrate the concept within existing systems and processes. Below are some approaches an organization may consider doing (item 3 will enable the objective tracking of stress levels):
- Add a ‘Stress Moment’ to each planned meeting. Most organizations start meetings with a safety moment, so adding one more 3-minute agenda item may not be a stretch.
- Add a ‘Stress Moment’ to safety tailboard meetings.
- Invest in stress measurement technology like the Inner Balance or EmWave Pro unit (heartmath.com); the latter will allow remote monitoring and access to the historical profile of each user’s stress levels.
- Invest in self-regulation and emotional intelligence training programs. Some employees may not be aware of their level of stress nor know how to manage it. Check out Panther Power Corporation’s Leadership Development Program offerings at https://www.panther-power.com/leadership-development-programs/.