Although there are few serious injuries and fatalities (SIFs) that actually happen in workplaces, there's lots of potential for them to occur. According to research by Dekra Insight, 21 per cent of all incidents that get reported in the United States have the potential to be an SIF, said Donald Martin, senior vice-president of Dekra Insight, speaking at the National Safety Council conference in Indianapolis on Sept. 25.
“That is real, reasonable potential. If one thing had changed, the outcome would have been completely and totally different,” he said.
If an employer has 1,000 accident reports over the course of a year or two and 21 per cent of them have SIF potential, that leaves the employer with more than 200 cases to study to extract the SIF pre-cursors.
“That’s a gold mine of information that can take you down the path for prevention,” Martin said.
For the purposes of its research, Dekra defined serious injuries and fatalities as those that are life-threatening or life-altering.
Nearly-three quarters (71 per cent) of the accidents Dekra looked at were due to either a breakdown in a life-saving safety rule or a breakdown in a pre-task risk assessment.
When it comes to safety rules, safety managers need to look at the design integrity, meaning does the rule itself actually protect people, said Martin. It’s also important to consider “behavioural reliability,” meaning does the system and the processes that support it reliably enable the behaviours that you want to see protect people.
In looking at pre-task risk assessments, safety professionals must consider the entire lifecycle of the risk assessment.
“Does it accurately predict the SIF exposures a worker might be exposed to in the course of their job? Does it accurately identify the triggers that would cause a worker to stop a job and does it in fact do a debrief at the end of the job to ascertain whether all aspects of the SIF exposures were properly controlled,” said Martin.
A great way to pinpoint SIF pre-cursors is to ensure accident case narratives are vivid, detailed and personal.
“When those are written well, it’s very easy for any person at any stage to look at that narrative and quickly determine if SIF exposure potential existed in that event or not,” Martin said.
Preventing SIFs has executive-level interest, Martin pointed out. Executives at the highest levels of organizations are taking the time to understand SIFs and the precursors in their company. Once they start looking at things through the SIF lens, it changes everything because they want to get ahead of the curve, said Martin.
“Many of these executives find themselves spending more time in the field, interacting with front-line workers, trying to understand what they’re up against, so they can understand their executive responsibilities to protect them.”