Occupational health and safety (OEHS) professionals work with organizations to prevent harm to workers from hazards in their workplace. OEHS experts' goal is to prevent workplace illness and injury, with an overarching goal for workers to leave healthier than when they came to work.

Lagging metrics has historically measured the efficacy of worker protection. However, data and analysis on lagging metrics, though readily available, are not preventive because worker health has already been impacted. The lag time between exposure and adverse health effects can give false reassurance when the physical manifestation from an adverse exposure is not yet present. Furthermore, an absence of documented illness or disease does not necessarily equate to an absence of hazardous exposures in the work environment or inherent in the work.

Leading occupational health metrics to measure some exposure, factor, risk, program, or control that occurs or exists before an unwanted health outcome. Prospective by design, leading metrics can assist with predicting and influencing health and safety performance related to occupational illness and worker health. The focus is on disease prevention and health preservation. However, these metrics are limited in availability and scope.

To fill the gap caused by too few leading health metrics, the Center for Safety and Health Sustainability initiated a project to identify leading health metrics for the broad community of OHS professionals. AIHA, a founding member of the CSHS, assumed the lead role in this project.

The Best Practice Guide for Leading Health Metrics in Occupational Health and Safety Programs is intended for both practitioners and managers in the broad occupational health community, including industrial hygiene, occupational medicine, occupational health nursing, engineering, and human resources. The guide applies to all industry sectors and business categories, including but not limited to, manufacturing, distribution, healthcare, and nongovernmental organizations, as well as small and medium-sized enterprises.

This guidance document outlines examples of health protection and health promotion leading metrics, as opposed to metrics specific to safety or injury outcomes, and effective means of measurement to assess exposure or risk evaluation activities.

Balanced metrics are a continuous circle. When designed correctly, leading and lagging metrics will be balanced (identification, evaluation, and control) while completing a correlated and intertwined set. Yet, it is not enough to create a metric: it is necessary to monitor and manage the metric to make sure it is understood, interpreted consistently, and used to drive desired actions or behavior.

The benefit of the balanced set of metrics approach creates an opportunity throughout the process of implementing an OHS program to check on its effectiveness, without simply waiting for the medical monitoring to confirm that something was amiss. Likewise, if not all of the overexposed workers are identified, all the world controls will not prevent health problems. Ultimately, a concise but comprehensive view of performance is used to monitor, predict, influence, or manage exposures, hazards, actions, and conditions.