Leading indicators and benchmarking key to growing success for property management company

About impact case studies

This impact case study is part of a series that illustrates the diffusion, uptake and outcomes of Institute for Work & Health research, based upon our research impact model. The model differentiates three types of impact:
Type 1: Evidence of diffusion of research
Type 2: Evidence of research informing decision-making at the policy or organizational level
Type 3: Evidence of societal impact

This is a Type 2 case study

Published: December 2014

Participating in a research program has helped a large, national firm adopt a new injury prevention approach, one that uses leading indicators to identify risk of work-related injuries before they occur.

Brookfield Johnson Controls, an integrated real estate services company that primarily delivers facility management services, is now using an Institute for Work & Health (IWH) leading indicators survey to monitor and improve its workplace health and safety programs.

Leading indicators of work injury and illness are characteristics of workplaces that precede occupational health and safety (OHS) outcomes. If changed, they should lead to changes in these outcomes. As such, leading indicators have the potential to help identify factors affecting the risk of injury, allowing workplaces to address these factors before injuries occur.

With 1,900 employees, Brookfield provides services through its own technical workforce and a supplier network of 3,500 subcontracting companies employing their own staff. With tens of thousands of workers to be concerned about, and big national and international clients, the company has to have a well-functioning health and safety program. 

Company realizes lagging indicators not best measures of safety

Up until a few years ago, the company had been using mostly lagging indicator information to track its program success. We measured lost-time and no-lost time injury rates and other indicators that measure after the fact, says Rich Coleman, the company’s national director for business continuity and quality, health, safety and security. He and colleagues realized that those were not the best measures of safety and began a transition to using leading indicator information. 

Brookfield’s first attempt at using leading indicators involved implementing a hazard reporting program. This led to a significant reduction in its lost-time injury rates, but the company didn’t stop there.  

In 2013, Brookfield participated in the Ontario Leading Indicators Project (OLIP), a research program by IWH to determine the best, most practical leading indicators for assessing and supporting OHS program improvements. Coleman completed an online survey about the company’s processes and practices. He later received a benchmarking report outlining where the company was performing well in OHS and where improvements could be made. 

The report prompted the company to take a closer look at its OHS programs. Brookfield did an internal review, with assistance from its health and safety association, Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS), a partner with IWH on the OLIP project. 

The report really [told us] where there were opportunities for growth, … and it helped us look at leading indicators in a new way, says Coleman.

OLIP improves processes for choosing subcontractors

The company’s OLIP report identified potential improvements that could be made in communicating, monitoring and reviewing internal OHS programs. But the biggest opportunity for the company lay in the use of OLIP to improve its processes for choosing subcontractors. 

This was a key area of focus for us, says Coleman. Our prequalification audits for subcontractors were not enough—the audits just measured compliance and relied on lagging indicators. The OLIP survey benchmarking report provided other measures to work with.

Now the company is using OLIP questions to audit existing and potential contractors. We’ve eliminated most of the lagging indicators in our prequalification process and inserted leading indicators… so we understand how well equipped [the contractors] are to perform for us.

The company also found the sector benchmarks provided in the OLIP report useful. Previously, Brookfield relied on internal information, comparing departments and accounts. It’s tough to partner up with your competition to get good data, says Coleman. So the nice thing about participating in OLIP [was getting] some of that industry data. The benchmarks helped us understand if our struggles were the same struggles as the industry overall.

Coleman urges others to take the OLIP survey and use the results to do a critical review of OHS programs, as Brookfield did.  When you’re auditing subcontractor firms... or when you’re trying to get more information from a benchmarking perspective, it really makes sense to really focus on leading indicators.