Safety Leadership

Safety Leadership: Making better decisions for serious injury prevention

Editor’s Note: Achieving and sustaining an injury-free workplace demands strong leadership. Throughout 2014, experts from Ojai, CA-based consulting firm BST will share their point of view on what leaders need to know to guide their organizations to world-class safety performance.

Safety leaders routinely make decisions about exposures. Worker exposures to serious injury and fatality events present a particular problem. Not only are the stakes higher for making the right decisions, but our understanding of these exposures has changed in recent years. Serious injury and fatality events are no longer seen as just the worst-case scenario of lesser-severity injuries; instead, they are recognized as having different causes that require special attention. To better address these exposures, leaders need to make sure their decision-making process is informed by the best information possible.

Creating behavioral reliability

The Hierarchy of Controls is the logic essential for determining which controls are necessary to isolate the worker, as much as possible, from exposure to risk.

The logic is simple: Use the highest level of control whenever possible, and supplement with lower levels of control as required. For addressing serious injury and fatality exposures, leaders want to choose the most behaviorally reliable solution possible. That is, we want solutions that don’t depend on people using them correctly every time in order to work. Yet too often the corrective actions for events with serious injury and fatality potential focus on faster, less expensive (and less reliable) remedies, such as personal protective equipment or additional employee training. These decisions often are the result of incomplete information or a poor understanding of serious injury and fatality causation. To get better information, leaders can:

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1. Provide ongoing training. Make sure your incident investigation team is well- educated about the importance of potential, the distinct nature of serious injury and fatality events and their precursors, how to recognize serious injury and fatality potential in an event, and how to identify appropriate remedies.

2. Write compelling narratives. One of the most powerful ways to help serious injury and fatality exposure cases stand out is to train investigators to write detailed case narratives. For example, a case that is typically written as:

An employee was operating a front-end loader when it slipped on the road and the driver hit the cab pillar head-on.

Might be written as:

The employee was driving a front-end loader in the north section of the mine. Because it had just rained, a section of the roadway had eroded, creating a 3-foot drop. The employee was driving west when another vehicle was coming east and the driver had to move over to let the vehicle pass. When he did this, the right two wheels of his vehicle went off the road and caused the front-end loader to lurch to the right, resulting in the employee hitting his head on the pillar. He could have been crushed or killed had the vehicle rolled over.

3. Give visibility to serious injury and fatality exposures. An effective serious injury and fatality rate, for example, captures data to measure the rate of exposure to serious injuries and fatalities – both the exposures that resulted in an actual fatality or serious injury plus those with the potential to result in one.

4. Participate in the investigation process. Make it a habit to question decisions made about exposure control strategies. Were higher reliability alternatives considered? Do longer-term alternatives exist that will use higher reliability strategies? Although not every exposure can be addressed with the highest control, neither should every exposure be addressed through PPE.

Stay informed

The best way to address serious injury and fatality exposures is to start with a solid picture of serious injury and fatality potential in the organization. Educating people about these exposures, and helping people identify and understand them, is the first step toward making decisions that will make a difference.

Martin Dean is vice president of delivery, EMEA for BST. Dean leads strategic client initiatives in the Europe, Middle East, North Africa region and has more than 20 years of safety management experience in 40+ countries.


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