Research shows that 25% of OSHA recordable injuries could have been much worse.
Recently, one of our clients showed six months of steady reduction in their recordable injury rate, then suffered their first fatality the following month.
Analysis of about 60 incident reports, sorted for high potential for serious injury and fatality (SIF), uncovered a disturbing pattern too late. During the months prior to the fatality, the rate of incidents with high potential for injury remained unchanged.
Sadly, this isn’t unusual. While the nonfatal workplace injury rate across the US has been declining for years, the workplace fatality rate has been essentially flat—and research shows that as many as 25% of less severe OSHA recordable injuries have a realistic SIF exposure potential. Often this is caused by deviation from procedure (intended or not); failure to recognize risk; or a culture where working at risk is accepted, even encouraged. Do any of these statements sound familiar?
- “They have a rule for everything around here. If I followed them all I’d never get anything done.”
- “I’ve done it this way a thousand times.”
- “I know what the process says, but this is how we all work.”
- “Around here, we get the job done.”
- “My manager says to work safely, but he doesn’t practice what he preaches.”
When SIF potential goes unnoticed, or is ignored, the difference between a minor injury and a life-threatening one boils down to luck. Smaller incidents happen until tragedy strikes.
The good news, however, is that companies can identify these SIF precursors and take steps to control their exposure.
Assess. Review your incident history. Go back several years, looking at SIF events, near misses, medical treatments, and other incidents that can provide clues. Look for themes, and look for potential: even if the incident only caused a minor injury, or a near miss, could it have led to a serious injury? Then understand why. What led to the injury? What were the trends? Based on your data, you can develop a process to sort your SIF exposures by criteria such as type and frequency, and then prioritize how to address them.
Lead with safety. Senior leaders create safety culture by the decisions they make and the words they say – and don’t say. You can put up “work safely” posters on every wall, but if you reward someone for putting himself into harm’s way to keep the assembly line moving, you’re sending the wrong message. Visible personal commitment to safety from senior leaders will motivate employees to do the same.
Build skills. Team leaders and employees work safely when they exercise best practices that reduce SIF exposure. Equipped with these skills, they know how to recognize exposure to injury and when it changes. They talk to one another when they see it. They encourage following life-saving processes. They report and learn from safety incidents and near misses, especially those with SIF potential.
Align systems. For exposure reduction to happen, and for improvements to stick, company processes and tools need to support SIF exposure reduction, rather than impede it. Alignment of systems includes life-saving rules that align with SIF exposures; performance management systems that support SIF prevention; incident investigations focus on event learning versus establishing blame; just to name a few.
SIF exposure reduction requires awareness of the potential and support in SIF prevention at all levels as an ongoing way to work. Let’s not put our trust in luck. Have a safe day.