Apr. 16th, 2018
Over the past 15 years, the U.S. has seen a steady decline in both fatalities and non-fatal injuries and illnesses. While any decline is a step in the right direction, there is concern that the rate of Serious Injuries and Fatalities (SIFs) are declining much slower than non-fatal injuries and illnesses.1 Due to this trend, identifying SIFs and finding effective ways to prevent them is a cornerstone of global initiatives; similar to the International Labour Organization’s Vision Zero, an initiative to end fatal occupational injuries and illnesses. What is a Serious Injury? With so much importance placed on identifying SIFs, it is critical to ask a basic question: What is a serious injury? Serious injuries involve an amputation, the loss of an eye or in-patient hospitalization. OSHA requires reporting of those injuries classified as a severe incident or fatality. To help with classifying serious injuries, researchers have broken this definition into two categories to consider when identifying SIFs1: Life-threatening: Injuries that are likely to kill the injured person if not immediately addressed. Examples include abdominal trauma or damage to the brain/spinal cord. Life-altering: Injuries that lead to permanent disability or disfigurement. More often, a life-altering injury is one that will continue to cause pain long after the scars have healed. Examples include paralysis or amputations. Preventing SIFS After identifying SIFs, the next question becomes: How can we prevent them? SIFs are thought to occur when there are high-risk exposures and safety control failures, and both of these items are allowed to continue without mitigation. To put it simply, high-risk situations where management controls are absent, ineffective or otherwise not properly implemented may lead to a SIF if allowed to continue. The key to SIF prevention is recognizing these situations and applying appropriate mitigation techniques, as necessary. Tools available to assist with preventing SIFs: Identify contractors who have robust written health and safety programs and confirm they are implementing their written programs through an onsite audit or evaluation. Track events that can lead to SIFs, such as near misses. Communicate unintended incidents or near misses and lessons learned to all affected individuals, including contractors, in a timely manner. Implement lessons learned following an incident or near miss to reduce the likelihood of SIFs occurring in the future. 1Martin, Donald K., and Alison A. Black. “Preventing Serious Injuries & Fatalities.” Professional Safety, no. 9 (2015): 35-43.