A New Approach to Preventing Workplace Injuries

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While overall workplace injuries have been falling in the last decade, the numbers of deadly and catastrophic injuries are actually on the rise.

A new report recommends that employers focus their injury prevention efforts on reviewing accidents that could have resulted in serious injury or death, as well as on near misses, where a potentially serious accident was narrowly avoided.

The “Serious Injury and Fatality Prevention: Perspectives and Practices” report, by the Campbell Institute, recommends that employers focus on their internal processes that could lead to serious injuries and fatalities, rather than on human error itself.

They should focus on identifying and fixing holes in their safety management system, examine their workplace culture, and change or modify work processes so as to eliminate the chances of human error affecting safety.

The report recommends that organizations don’t put the blame on the injured worker, but instead take a look at internal factors that contributed to an accident. To identify events or near events that could have led to serious injury or death, the prevention model in the report recommends focusing on and studying:

  • Precursors to accidents
  • Near misses
  • All recordable injuries

By identifying potential precursors to such events and educating employees about those precursors, companies can focus on eliminating the potential for accidents to occur in the first place.

One key component of this method is to identify which smaller accidents or near misses had the most potential to inflict serious injury or death.

Recommendations

Establish a system for reporting near misses. Consider:

  • Addressing issues such as workers being afraid of the consequences of reporting a near miss. Try to instill trust among your workers that they won’t be punished for a near miss, and that reporting them can help prevent future serious injuries.
  • Define what constitutes a near miss.
  • Include near-miss training during new employee orientations.
  • Get buy-in from management and supervisors to foster a culture of reporting near misses.
  • Make reporting simple and straightforward.
  • Make sure that your investigation includes a precise log of what led up to the near miss, as well as the root cause.
  • Take corrective action after conducting the investigation.

When rolling out the plan, hold a safety meeting explaining to employees why the company is focusing on the smaller incidents and near misses, and how a minor incident can turn major. Explain the importance of looking at potential rather than actual outcomes for minor incidents.

Try to be innovative in how you tackle workplace safety. For example, an article in Risk and Insurance magazine looked at a number of large employers that have worked with the criminology departments of nearby colleges to analyze injuries and near misses, in order to help identify what they could have done to prevent them.
The magazine’s report found that employers that used this method saw significant reductions in the number of workplace injuries they experienced.