A new report from the Campbell Institute released during the 2018 National Safety Council Congress and Expo, the world’s largest annual gathering of safety professionals, takes an in-depth look at serious injuries and fatalities in the workplace and illustrates a new prevention model suggested by safety experts in recent years.
Over the past two decades, the U.S. has seen enormous gains in workplace safety, according to the report, titled Serious Injury and Fatality Prevention: Perspectives and Practices. The gains in safety are illustrated by the total recordable incident rate, which dropped to 3.0 incidents per 200,000 working hours in 2016 from 8.5 incidents per 200,000 hours in 1993.
However, this notable reduction in total workplace injuries is not paralleled by a similar reduction in life-altering injuries and fatal incidents. In fact, worker fatalities are at an eight-year high, with 5,190 people dying in 2016.
The Campbell report recommends a redesign of the classic safety triangle, which consists of non-injury accidents, minor injuries and major injuries. This model treats all minor incidents and near misses as if they had the potential to result in a more serious injury or fatality and diverts attention away from the incidents that have the most potential to result in something serious.
The updated structure is based on identifying the root causes and contextual factors that lead to serious injuries and fatalities on the job. Organizations cannot make their workplaces safer by “fixing the worker,” rather they should design work processes to eliminate human error. This makes safety less dependent on employee behavior and more dependent on the safety system.
“Companies in our report know that safety is a work-in-progress with the goal of continuous improvement,” said John Dony, director of the Campbell Institute, the center of excellence for environmental, health and safety at NSC. “To be at the top of their game, these companies recognize that they have to do more to protect their workers. While such incidents may not occur with frequency, implementing a serious injuries and fatalities prevention program is how these organizations move to the next level of maturity.”
Strategies to prevent serious injuries and fatalities from occurring include identifying potential precursors to such events and educating employees about those precursors. In addition, companies can focus on eliminating the potential for such incidents to occur.
Taking these steps can lead organizations to a higher level of safety management, as shown by the companies featured in the Campbell report.
“The organizations featured in our report consistently pointed out that going from the concept of a serious injury and fatality prevention program to actual implementation requires careful planning – both around the processes used and the responsibilities assigned,” Dony said. “In addition, buy-in is needed from the entire organization, from the top down. Having these factors in place will go a long way toward implementing a successful prevention program.”