Creating a safety culture: Focus on more than just recording zero incidents

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by Bob Fitzgerald, Sr. Risk Control Consultant at Willis Towers Watson

Great news! Your project achieved a safety milestone with zero OSHA-recordable injuries. Mission accomplished, right? Not entirely. Most safety practitioners insist that there is always room for improvement with safety practices and procedures.

While the OSHA Recordable Incidence Rate (RIR) is a common and important metric for many organizations, some industry groups rank this indicator too high. Avoiding OSHA-recordable injuries is always a good thing, but claiming victory based on that alone does not meet the true goal of safety. For example, how many close calls were there? As safety leaders, we should work to change the mind-set that milestones equal achievements and instead shift to a clearer understanding of overall safety performance.

To better grasp the evolution of safety-performance measurements, it is important to appreciate why the OSHA RIR has become so prevalent. In 1982, the Business Roundtable issued the report “Improving Construction Safety Performance” to emphasize the importance of investing in safety programs and open dialogue between contractors and the work force. The report also provided a relatively objective method to select safe contractors by suggesting the use of Experience Modification Rate (EMR) and OSHA RIR for safety evaluations.

Ultimately, the report’s appendix gave business owners a tool to evaluate their contractors objectively. The intentions were noble, but some may have taken these guidelines as definitive metrics, placing too much emphasis on OSHA-recordable cases. In fact, many owners are still using variations of the original 1982 report appendix as a qualification document to help select contractors. This reporting can lead to inconsistencies. For example, one dose of a prescription pain medication qualifies as an OSHA-recordable injury, as does a fractured femur. Ideally, injury severity should be considered, because incidence rates alone may not paint the clearest picture.

Look beyond the numbers

Evaluators sometimes focus on the numbers and place too much emphasis on case management in achieving safety performance. Workers notice when management continually stresses achieving zero RIRs. If bonuses and promotions are tied to OSHA rates, employees and contractors may intentionally, or unintentionally, avoid reporting incidents.

It is important to build safety systems and processes to minimize the impact of human error. This also means we must think beyond achieving zero incidents, particularly with regard to OSHA rates. It is vital to implement proactive safety processes and take care of our people.

About the author: Bob Fitzgerald is a Senior Risk Control Consultant at Willis Towers Watson. The article has been republished with permission and originally appeared in NCCER’s Cornerstone Magazine.

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