Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Preventing Fatalities Requires New Focus, Revised Paradigm

Fatality prevention is "the most important work a safety leader can do. It's the most important issue we a be working on." With that Tom Krause opened his presentation at the IUP/Alcoa Fatality Prevention Forum near Pittsburgh by sharing some new insights on serious injuries and fatalities (SIFs). As he did during ASSE's Safety 2012 conference in Denver, Krause noted that while recordable and lost-time injury rates are generally declining, fatality rates remain flat or are rising.

Why is this happening? According to Krause, the fact that existing safety systems aren't reducing SIFs implicates problems with the design and implementation of those systems.

Research into this issue has revealed several interesting findings about the well-known safety triangle.

The triangle is accurate descriptively about the quantitative nature of accidents. There are "lots of small ones before a big one," Krause said. The traditional triangle also provides insight that informs prevention strategies. "There are lots of warnings if we are in a position to recognize them." And it proves that a single incident has significance. "The likelihood that something is a one-off event is low," Krause explained, meaning that the sequence events that led to the incident likely has happened before, it just didn’t result in injury.

However, research shows that the triangle is not accurate predictively. "Not all injuries have SIF potential and a reduction of injuries at the bottom of triangle does not correspond to equivalent reduction in SIFs," Krause said.

The first step in addressing this issue is to identify precursors, which Krause defines as unmitigated high-risk situations that will result in SIFs if allowed to continue. Examples include the way work is designed, lack of appropriate tools and inadequate procedures.

Next, the profession needs to modify the existing paradigm to ensure that it reflects the fact that all mnor injuries are not the same; that injuries have different underlying causes; and that different strategies are needed for different types of injuries. This, Krause said, will lead to more focused attention to SIFs, a stronger safety culture, better engagement and lower rates of serious injuries.

The research also points to several new research questions:
  1. Do specific leadership behaviors predict SIFs?
  2. Do specific cultural attributes predict SIFs?
  3. What other variables are related to SIFs?