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March 29, 2012

Follow these 4 'safety truths' to reduce injuries

  • Research has found that jobsites using all four safety truths had two to three times fewer incidents.
    Predictive Solutions Corp.


    Agroundbreaking study has identified four “safety truths” that can be used as leading indicators to predict the number of injuries on jobsites with accuracy rates as high as 90 percent.

    Predictive Solutions Corp. and a team from Carnegie Mellon University — the same CMU group that helped build the Watson supercomputer that beat the top champions on the game show “Jeopardy” and is now assisting doctors with complex medical diagnoses — have analyzed four years of construction project safety data and developed several workplace injury prediction models. From this research, four safety truths emerged that can help determine the risk of an injury occurring on a jobsite.

    Safety Truth No. 1

    More inspections predict a safer jobsite

    After detailed analysis of the data, a clear pattern emerged: the higher the volume of safety inspections, the fewer the number of injuries. A sampling of four different jobsites showed a strong correlation between the number of inspections and recorded injuries over time. These patterns are very much the norm and repeat themselves.

    Further, particularly at the early stages of a safety inspection program, it does not matter what the actual inspections report, the greater the number of inspections the better the safety outcome. If your company is experiencing high injury rates, the first step is to simply get out on your jobsite with your safety checklist and do more inspections.

    Safety Truth No. 2

    More inspectors, specifically more outsiders, predict a safer jobsite

    Once an organization starts doing more inspections, the next step is to get more people involved, specifically those outside the safety function. Data show a link between injuries and the degree of diversity among people involved in performing inspections.

    The probability of having an injury decreases as the number and diversity of the people performing inspections increases. Sites that have a high level of participation in the inspection process have a better safety record than sites with a few professional inspectors, even if the total number of inspections performed by the two groups is similar. In other words, having a large number of diverse inspectors doing a few inspections each is better than a few inspectors doing a large number of inspections, even if they are highly trained safety professionals.

    If you have increased your number of inspections (Truth No. 1), but are not seeing improvements in injury prevention, get more people, and people outside of safety, involved in your inspection program.

    Safety Truth No. 3

    Too many “100 percent safe” inspections predict an unsafe jobsite

    While at first it may seem counterintuitive, a high number of inspections that show very few (or no) unsafe or at-risk conditions invariably came from some of the most unsafe jobsites studied in the research.

    While one could interpret the inspections at their face value and assume that the site is safe given low levels of unsafe conditions, this is rarely the case. It turns out even the safest jobsites often have inspections that record a moderate level of unsafe observations.

    Image courtesy of Predictive Solutions [enlarge]
    Stage 1 shows higher incident risk when inspectors don’t see hazard indicators, yet report the site as 100 percent safe. When they find and resolve potential incidents, the risk goes down, as stage 2 shows. Risk goes back up in stage 3 if no action is taken to resolve potential incidents.

    Intuitively it may seem that as jobsites improve their safety performance, the number of unsafe conditions reported by safety inspections would fall. What happens in practice is quite different. The proportion of unsafe conditions found remains fairly steady as organizations continue to improve their safety performance.

    Generally, as the work environment changes (due to new processes, procedures, equipment, employees, etc.) new unsafe observations are made that were not evident in the old environment. Or, what was once considered an acceptable condition or behavior is now deemed unsafe based on new information. Inspectors continually become more critical and discerning of conditions and behaviors in the workplace.

    If most inspections are returning 100 percent safe information, your organization may be “flying blind,” meaning the jobsite is at a higher risk of having an injury, but the inspectors are not seeing or reporting the leading indicator signs of those injuries. Research shows that the safest jobsites continually find a certain level of unsafe conditions and behaviors, and then fix them before they become actual injuries.

    If you’re still having issues with your injury prevention program, make sure your program not only rewards high levels of inspections (Truth No. 1), by many and non-safety team members (Truth No. 2), but also trains for and rewards the reporting of unsafe observations from your safety inspections.

    The more unsafe observations you get, the more you can resolve before they become actual injuries.

    Safety Truth No. 4

    Too many unsafe observations predict an unsafe jobsite

    To state the obvious, a persistently high level of unsafe conditions is associated with a high level of injuries. Analysis of the data showed that companies in this group have nearly the same level of risk as those that find virtually no unsafe conditions (those “flying blind” outlined in Truth No. 3).

    What often occurs is that a lot of inspections are done (Truth No. 1), by a large and diverse inspection group (Truth No. 2), and they find a high level of unsafe conditions and behaviors (Truth No. 3). However, the levels of unsafe observations keep increasing because they are not being resolved. This can be referred to as the “inaction” stage, where the inspection program is strong, but the resulting injury prevention activities are not.

    Actual results

    The research found that the jobsites that successfully incorporated all four of the safety truths had two to three times less incidents. By promoting high levels of inspections, across both safety and non-safety functions, where it was expected that unsafe observations would be continually found and addressed, world-class jobsites were able to maintain the lowest amount of risk.

    Griffin Schultz is the general manager of Predictive Solutions, an Industrial Scientific company based in Oakdale, Pa.

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