Back in December, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its national census of fatal occupational injuries in 2018.
Here are some of the main figures:
- There were 5,250 fatal work injuries recorded in the U.S. in 2018, which is a 2% increase from the 5,147 in 2017, and the highest total since 2007.
- The fatal work injury rate remained unchanged at 3.5 per 100,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers.
- The nonfatal injury and illness rate in 2018 was 2.8 cases per 100 full-time workers. The rate was the same as in 2017, and it’s the first time since 2012 that the rate did not decrease.
- According to estimates, there were about 2.8 million nonfatal injuries and illnesses reported in 2018.
- The rate of nonfatal injuries and illnesses requiring days away from work (DAFW) rose slightly from 89.4 per 100,000 workers in 2017 to 89.7 per 100,000 workers in 2018.
But the situation may be worse than what official figures show.
David Michaels, head of OSHA under the Obama Administration, said on Twitter: “studies commissioned by BLS have shown that estimates based on employer injury logs undercount the actual number of injuries by 30-60%.” There may be about 5 million workers injured annually in the U.S., as opposed to 2.8 million, and the number is probably rising, according to Michaels.
So, in summary:
- Workplace fatalities are rising
- Injuries are not decreasing
- Actual injury numbers may be worse
There were many reactions following the release of the data. Naturally many stakeholders expressed concern, but they also put forward some useful recommendations and takeaways.
The American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) urges employers to be more active in adopting voluntary national consensus standards that promote best practices and prevent injuries, illnesses and fatalities. The ASSP also recommends that workplaces implement safety and health management systems, such as ANSI/ASSP Z10 and ISO 45001.
The National Safety Council (NSC) says that employers need to take a systematic approach to safety that includes policies, training and risk assessment techniques. This echoes the ASSP’s view about safety and health management systems. The NSC also says that leadership needs to set the tone from the top and engage all workers in safety, identify hazards and measure safety performance using leading indicators to continuously improve.
Another recommended action, from an EHS Daily Advisor article, is for organizations to use approaches like Total Worker Health® (TWH), which take a broader view of overall worker wellbeing. The TWH approach helps employers to consider a wider range of organizational and environmental factors that can affect worker behavior and stress.
There’s no doubt that all of this is great advice to address the trends observed from the BLS data. We would like to add another to complete the picture: Develop Serious Injury and Fatality (SIF) prevention practices.
The Campbell Institute proposes a revised safety triangle where incidents with SIF potential are represented as a slice of the original safety triangle. This subset of incidents with SIF potential have different root causes and contextual factors, or precursors, leading up to them.
Take steps for SIF prevention. Start by educating everyone in the organization about the new SIF prevention model, especially the new triangle. Explain that not all near misses or non-injury incidents are equal in terms of their potential for resulting in SIFs. Those with SIF potential must be identified.
Finally, consider the use of EHS software to implement an effective safety and health management system, foster a safety culture, and successfully identify and reduce workplace hazards and risks.