Serious injuries and fatalities (SIFs) are earth-shattering experiences for a worksite: nothing has as much of a time-freezing effect on a workforce. It's in these occasions that we see leaders drop everything to meet and reflect on the trauma that shakes their teams. And with these recurring meetings comes the obvious questions: “What happened? How can we keep this from ever happening again?” In recent years, workplace injuries have been trending in a concerning direction. Non-fatal recordables have slightly declined from 3.2/100 FTEs in 2014 to 3.0 in 2015 and 2.9 in 2016. Yet, fatalities increased, with 2014 recording 4,821 fatalities, 2015 showed a 15-case increase, followed by a dramatic 7% increase in 2016. 2017 likely will follow this trend.
These concerning numbers have brought about much country-wide soul-searching regarding SIFs and personal safety. Reflecting on this, this blog seeks to provide a path toward SIF safety-improvement. This post is the first of a four-part series to examine what progress is being made in the science of reducing SIFs.
Let's get Started with the Trends:
1. Wellness and Workplace Culture: A Powerful Pairing
Why We Like It: Wellness programs are an effective tool for prodding employees to embrace healthy habits such as physical exercise and a balanced diet. By removing cost barriers and offering flexible work schedules, employers can motivate their employees, improving not only their health, but also their risk of injury in the workplace. With a small investment from the company's side, it's easy to reduce employees' likelihood of injury, as healthier employees are less likely to get hurt. It's a win-win, which is why many companies now strongly encourage their employees to participate in these programs.
Where We See Challenges: Those who need these programs the most use them the least - which, unfortunately, halts the safety benefits that could be derived from these initiatives. Not convinced? Bring to work a box of donuts and a plate of fresh vegetables and see who eats what.
2. Eyes on the Numbers: OSHA's Recordkeeping Rule
Why We Like It: OSHA knows that it's easy to play with numbers: choose what you measure carefully and it will sound positive. For that reason, OSHA continues to emphasize the importance of detailed reporting of leading safety indicators instead of just focusing on the lagging indicators – which are still grossly under-reported. And it pays: companies that focus on leading indicators – such as completed safety training, employee-led pre-shift safety talks, readily accessible quality P.P.E., or leaders focused on recognizing employees working safely on high exposure tasks. These leading and positive safety indicators improve the site safety so everyone wants to report them.
Where We See Challenges: While OSHA’s efforts are commendable, they can only go so far due to one obstacle: negative consequences for reporting workplace injuries. As long as there is any form of disincentive for reporting injuries, leaders will find a way to limit what is reported. OSHA Representatives mention this challenge at every single safety conference I’ve attended.
3. Reducing Incentives for Lagging Safety Metrics
Why We Like It: Beyond OSHA, the entire safety industry agrees that rewarding a decrease in injury reporting, such as lower trending TRIR numbers, can be problematic. As the adage goes, “You will get what you reward.” We like that this recognition is happening as a first step. As a consequence, we see companies being very tepid when safety bonuses are proposed based purely on reported lagging safety metrics.
Where We See Challenges: The negative stigma against leaders who report higher-than-average safety incidents remains a reflection on their ineffective safety leadership. It's unfortunately still rare that leaders get accolades for detailed reporting on at-risk employee behavior, such as near misses. Changing the mindset is an ongoing battle.
4. On-Site Medical Stations
Why We Like It: Putting immediate and appropriate medical care close to workers benefits everyone. First-aid stations and medical stations deliver treatment quickly and sometimes more effectively than the alternative: a ride to the nearest ER. Over-treating can be just as problematic as under-treating. Having medical professionals onsite who can immediately triage the affected employee and then treat or send out for treatment improves safety and injury response times for all.
Where We See Challenges: Let’s not be naïve here: lowering Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR) numbers is a big factor in the equation to include medical management systems onsite. These healthcare professionals, often contractors, are very familiar with the definition of a recordable event, understand its significance, and how a trending increase may impact their job security.
5. A Team Effort: All Leaders Learning to Lead for Safety
Why We Like It: Have you ever listened to site leaders chat about who is responsible for site safety? Some want HR to hire safer employees. Others want the Safety group to do better safety training and monitoring of workplace safety behaviors. Yet, companies with a strong safety culture are starting to see something different. Their leaders extend the responsibility to everyone – specifically, all leaders. This remains a key element for a zero-harm safety culture.
Where We See Challenges: Few leaders have the skillset to proactively identify at-risk workers. There is little training available on the internal safety traits predictive of at-risk behaviors, so leaders are left telling everyone the same message: "work safely." Unfortunately, that has the same impact as telling workers to have a nice day. In the end, they do nothing differently.
Eliminating SIFs remains the 2018 goal of all safety-conscious companies. Yet, as safety professionals and researchers, we know marginal improvements will never equal zero-harm. We must challenge ourselves to think differently if the goal of reaching a zero-harm safety culture is to be realized. At Select International, we are heavily invested with our research teams to make this happen. Check back for next week's post where we discuss recent scientific breakthroughs related to personal safety traits that are increasing your workers exposures and likelihood of injury. Those most at-risk of serious injuries have four (safety) things in common – next week we'll review what those are!