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.
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.