Study: Reducing Minor Injuries May Not Reduce Serious Ones or Fatalities

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Many safety professionals are guided by Heinrich’s Safety Triangle, which holds that:

  • Injury frequency and injury severity are inversely related; and
  • Reductions in less serious injuries will result in proportionate reductions in more serious injuries.

But what if these fundamental principles—which form the basis for many safety programs and initiatives—are wrong? That’s the argument a recent study by BST makes.

The researchers noted that although statistics in the US show that the rate of “recordable” injuries has declined over the past five years, the rate of serious injuries and fatalities has either stayed the same or increased. These statistics hold at both the company and national level. And they clearly contradict the Safety Triangle.

The concern is that companies, particularly senior management, put too much weight on reductions in relatively minor injuries and mistakenly assume that their OHS programs are thus effective. The fact is that several catastrophic workplace incidents, including the Upper Big Branch mine and Deepwater Horizon Gulf tragedies, were preceded by years with rates of recordable injuries that were low, very low or improving.

The researchers believe that efforts to reduce recordable injuries have been effective and should continue. But a new approach is needed to reduce the number of serious injuries and fatalities. This approach, which will be different for each company, should be grounded in the following:

  • All minor injuries aren’t the same in their potential for serious injury or fatality; and
  • Injuries of differing severity have differing underlying causes.

In addition, they recommend that the strategy for reducing serious injuries be based on an analysis of the workplace’s incidents, injuries, fatalities, near misses and hazard risks.