Serious injuries and fatalities (SIFs) in the workplace reached 5,333 in 2019, the highest total since 2007. But while the number of SIFs decreased in 2020, these incidents have declined at a much slower rate than other less serious injuries.
In 2020, nearly half (42%) of workplace SIFs occurred in the construction industry — one of the most dangerous labor sectors — but workers across all industries are at risk. From waste management to transportation, there is a dire need for SIF and potential SIF (pSIF) prevention. In addition to jeopardizing worker safety, these events create reputational, financial and legal consequences for the organization.
Ultimately, safety training plays a vital role in lowering the rate of SIFs, but it’s only one component of the safety and risk management process. You need to identify the root causes of these incidents to improve processes and trainings; the most effective way to do that is with data and analytics.
The Causes and Consequences of SIFs
Although the total number of SIF cases fell in 2020, the rate of occurrence actually increased — from 2019 to 2020, days away from work decreased by 61% while the total number of SIFs only decreased by 10%.
However, the leading cause of these incidents has remained consistent since 2018: contact with objects or equipment. The second and third most common causes of SIF incidents are falls, slips and trips; and overexertion and bodily reactions. These incidents most frequently result in sprains, strains and tears; fractures and dislocations; and cuts, lacerations, wounds and bruises.
But the impact of SIF incidents is felt throughout the entire organization. Workplace injuries can cost up to thousands of dollars in damages — and up to millions of dollars for fatal injuries. SIFs also commonly result in lawsuits and negative press, damaging the organization's reputation.
One thing that complicates the challenge of reducing SIFs is the disconnect between full-time and contracted employees. Full-time employees typically complete the onboarding process when they begin work at a company and undergo continuous training and recertification. Contract workers are more likely to be rushed into a job they aren’t prepared for. And, in many instances, they don’t receive sufficient health care, which makes their injuries an even greater risk.
Fortunately, there is a way to create a safer workplace for both full-time and contract workers, and it starts with looking at data on past incidents in your organization.
How to Reduce SIFs and pSIFs with Data and Analytics
Historically, risk and safety managers gathered data from incident management systems and observational audits to analyze safety event and performance data. But now that most work is done by contract workers in fields like construction and agriculture, risk and safety managers must track incidents across multiple employers and locations.
Instead of relying on this difficult and tedious method of evaluating performance and safety data, many companies are turning to data and analytics to determine the underlying causes of SIFs. Using a purpose-built contractor management platform with analytics capabilities, you can more easily submit, access and analyze data, such as performance and incident trends.
How does this work, exactly? Workers can report and categorize on-site incidents in real time, storing the organization’s entire safety and performance data in a single repository. The more specific and high quality the data, the better you can analyze it to understand the potential for SIFs.
After submitting an incident report, the analytics dashboard evaluates the nature of the event. Over time, the platform helps recognize trends and pinpoint specific activities and processes that expose workers to risk. This equips you with the necessary knowledge to apply corrective actions to workplace processes and better mitigate future SIFs.
For example, in 2020 we discovered that certain indicators had a high correlation with higher or lower SIF rates in the construction industry. SIF rates were 69% higher for contractors who operate commercial motor vehicles, but they were 22% lower if someone submitted a program for NFPA-70E (electrical safety). This data highlights not only the need for better training for commercial motor vehicle operation, but also the importance of submitting safety documentation.
In addition to protecting workers and avoiding the consequences of SIFs, data and analytics enable you to:
Focus efforts. The ability to pinpoint exactly what specific activities or processes are contributing to higher SIF rates allows you to focus your efforts on improving them. For example, if you determine that working at heights of 6 feet or higher correlates to a higher SIF rate, you can prioritize safety training and processes around working at elevated heights.
Create a culture of safety. With a clear understanding of where to allocate resources for safety improvements, you can equip workers with the right tools and training to stay safe. Initial training before a job is critical, but on-the-job training and continuous knowledge assessments help ensure a more thorough comprehension of protocols. Creating a culture of safety is a win-win for employees and employers.
Become a preferred employer. Marketing yourself as an empathetic, safety-first employer is crucial, especially in today’s tight labor market. By allowing potential employees to evaluate the organization’s safety data — if the numbers look good — a contracted worker will more likely want to work for you.
The need for SIF and pSIF prevention is on the rise, as the incidence rate doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. Workplace safety should always be a priority, but consider harnessing the power of data and analytics to uncover the root causes of these serious incidents. This knowledge enables you to improve processes and enhance training procedures that will benefit both you and your workers.
Rick Dorsett is a director at ISN, where he oversees the company's health, safety, environmental and sustainability review team.