Workplace Injuries are Down due to Safe Work Practices or Luck?

By Wendy Laing.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics recently announced that nearly 3.1 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses were reported among private industry employers in 2010, resulting in an incidence rate of 3.5 cases per 100 equivalent full-time workers – down from 3.6 cases in 2009.  While OSHA expresses encouragement that the reported decline is a result of the joint effort of government, business, unions and other organizations, it is clear that we must continue to identify meaningful methods to reduce injuries and illnesses in the workplace.

How do you know if the actions conducted by your management and employees correlate to a decrease in injuries and illnesses?  Measuring safety performance by illness and injury statistics alone does not provide enough information to ensure that you are performing the correct actions to reduce injuries and illnesses.  A decline in reported injuries could be due to improved safe work practices and prevention programs, or could simply be luck.

Consider implementing the following elements into your management system:

  • Measure at-risk and safe work practices of employees. A reduction of at-risk work practices coupled with an increase of safe practices would certainly seem to correlate to a reduction of injuries and illnesses.
  • Conduct frequent employee training to reinforce safe work practices.  Avoid training to simply “check the box” for regulatory requirements, and provide real world examples to which your employees can relate.
  • Regularly review hazards and/or potential hazards in the workplace through a systematic worksite analysis.  Assess the risks of identified hazards and take necessary action to control identified hazards.
  • Ensure the “near hits” (incidents that didn’t cause injury but could have) are investigated through a comprehensive process to identify and eliminate the root causes.
  • Implement a change management process to ensure safe operating procedures and work practices are implemented and documented during a change in equipment, process or building design.

There are many other critical elements of a management system, also recently termed by OSHA as an Injury and Illness Prevention Program (I2P2), to measure safety performance and reduce injuries and illnesses in the workplace.  What works in your organization?

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1 Comment so far

  1. It should be noted that the .1 difference betwen 3.5 and 3.6 is not statistically significant, and also represents ONLY common cause variation. Without information which shows how the variation associated with this metric has changed, one should not assume that this year-to-year difference means anything. Additionally, there are other factors, such as the reduced willingness to report an injury in a down economy for fear of job loss in some companies, that also affect this ratio.

    In my opinion, few organizations have actually improved their safety systems to best practice levels. I work a lot in Canada, and I can say with no reservation that the Canadian energy safety systems are much more robust and effective when compared to similar ones (by name only) in the US. Also, a 3.5 recordable rate for our country pales in comparison to the rates UNDER ONE that companies in other countries atain through the use of effective safety systems.

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