October 27, 2020 / Stephen Hemperly

How to Use the New Best Practice Guide for Leading Health Metrics in Occupational Health and Safety Programs

This blog post refers to information provided in a communication by Sharon Dubrow, MS, of the American Chemistry Council, a member of the task force that developed the titular guide on best practices for leading health metrics.

Earlier this month, an AIHA news article announced the publication of a new guidance document developed by the association, through the Center for Safety and Health Sustainability (CSHS), titled “Best Practice Guide for Leading Health Metrics in Occupational Health and Safety Programs” (PDF). Under AIHA leadership, the guide was developed by a task force of professionals from the industrial hygiene, medical, and health and wellness communities, which included Sharon Dubrow, Anita L. Schill (a NIOSH researcher who helped develop the Total Worker Health program), and me, among many others.

The task force set out to develop leading health metrics that would be useful in the workplace environment. Recognizing that multiple factors contribute to any health outcome, the task force decided to design an approach that readers could use to develop a “balanced set of metrics.” Balanced sets of leading metrics, which cover a wide range of health indicators, can help an OEHS professional provide a stronger assessment of risk than through use of any single metric alone. Therefore, measuring a range of relevant metrics makes it more likely for the OEHS professional to have influence over a health outcome. The approach presented in the guide is systematic and lends itself to continued refinement and adjustment over time.

The guide presents, in tabular form, a range of potential leading health metrics along with nearly forty references. These examples are meant to give the user a place to start, but it is expected that the metrics used by OEHS professionals at any organization would be specific to its industry or business operations. In particular, one of the references listed in the table, Campbell Institute’s “An Implementation Guide to Leading Indicators” (PDF), provides quite a comprehensive list of potential metrics related to risk assessment and management and other topics.

A common metaphor in the fields of epidemiology and public health is that of the “web of causation,” which visualizes, in the form of a web, the relationships between multiple causative factors, assigning equal prominence to each. My hope as a co-creator of the new AIHA-CSHS guide is that my fellow OEHS professionals will use it in a similar way, by proactively developing and using leading health metrics within a “web of health protection and promotion” specific to the organizations they serve.

Measuring the success of an occupational health and safety program requires identifying helpful metrics—whether quantitative or qualitative, leading or lagging. Being proactive in addressing workplace health-related issues before they become a serious problem means looking ahead in time instead of backward, but a retrospective view of past or existing health issues is still necessary for a strong program. OEHS professionals need to look forward, using leading health metrics while still attending to lagging indicators: the new guide is meant as a supplement rather than a replacement.

Stephen Hemperly

Stephen Hemperly, MS, CIH, CSP, CLSO, FAIHA, is an advisory industrial hygienist with Western Digital and a member of the task force that wrote the AIHA-CSHS guide on leading health metrics.


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