Protect Your Workers: Think Beyond Zero Safety Incidents
by Bob Fitzgerald, Sr. Risk Control Consultant at Willis Towers Watson
Great news! Your project achieved a safety milestone with zero safety incidents. Mission accomplished, right? Not entirely. Most safety practitioners insist that there is always room for improvement with safety practices and procedures.
Zero Safety Incidents Not Enough to Guarantee Safety
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 when making a plan to protect your workers, because incidence rates alone may not paint the clearest picture.
Look Beyond the Numbers To Protect Your Workers
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 safety incidents. If bonuses and promotions are tied to OSHA rates, employees and contractors may intentionally, or unintentionally, avoid reporting incidents. This puts your workers in danger even if it was done in an attempt to protect your workers
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 safety 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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