Moving the Needle on Safety: Metrics that Matter Most

May 8, 2019

Which of the following events is more concerning?

Example 1: A carpenter receives antibiotic drops at a local clinic to flush sawdust from his eye.

Example 2: A carpenter receives a minor bruise on his hand requiring onsite first aid after a 2×4 is dropped from 25 ft overhead.

Example 1 is a recordable injury that would go on an OSHA 300 log. Example 2 is not a recordable injury at all. So, which one are you more concerned about? Hint: The one that had the potential to be fatal.

Traditional injury metrics such as Recordable Incident Rate (RIR) and Lost-Time Incident Rate (LTIR) are routinely used to measure safety performance. The lower the RIR and LTIR, the safer the company is perceived to be. Brasfield & Gorrie has benefited from that as our RIR and LTIR have declined over the last decade. We consistently perform well below the industry average. We are encouraged by our improvement in those categories and want to continue it. But as the previous examples illustrate, simply counting injuries that meet an OSHA definition can be deceiving. These metrics do not account for potential severity, and therefore discount events that could have been life-altering.

As we learn more about serious injury and fatality research, we begin to understand that this radical focus on lower injury rates has done very little to lower fatalities. To be fair, it’s easy to see why we spend time examining minor injuries; they are more common than severe injuries. We should not ignore minor injuries, but statistics are funny things. Fact: We are much less likely to suffer a recordable injury today than at any other time in history, but only slightly less likely to suffer a fatality today than 20 to 30 years ago. Construction fatality rates have remained relatively flat over the last three decades, while recordable rates have hit historic lows.

The research suggests the following:

  1. The things that cause minor injuries are rarely the same things that cause serious or fatal injuries.
  2. Minor injury trends have very little correlation to help us predict future serious events. 

Examples 1 and 2 help illustrate those points. A 2×4 dropped from elevation has a different impact than the same 2×4 creating dust at a work station. Furthermore, the sawdust in the eye is no indication that we will later drop something from an elevation. The two events have no correlation; tying them to some greater cultural problem is problematic. This may seem trivial, but it’s extremely helpful in determining how we spend our time learning from events that occur at Brasfield & Gorrie. 

My friend and colleague Matt Compher at Quanta Services coined the phrase STCKY to help us think about this complex topic. STCKY stands for “stuff that can kill you.” A STCKY event is one that had the potential to cause severe or fatal injury. There are things in our construction environments that can hurt you, and there are things that can kill you. When we have a STCKY event, regardless of actual harm, we must pause and learn—we SEE IT, OWN IT, SHARE IT®. We don’t have to wait for actual harm to occur to learn and grow from these events.

The good news is that the things in our construction environments that can do the most harm are not a mystery. The leading causes of construction deaths have long been falls, electrocutions, and situations where workers are struck by or caught between objects. Anything with the potential to create significant energy has the potential to cause harm. Control of that energy prevents it from causing harm, and control comes in many different forms.

As we move into the future, the way we talk about these controls will be as important as anything we do.  Helpful guiding questions include:

  1. What tasks and hazards can severely harm or kill us in our construction environment?
  2. What are the essential controls we have in place to make sure they don’t?
  3. When we make mistakes doing those tasks or around those hazards, are those controls enough? Do we have ample room to recover?

Our learning event process, in which we reflect upon and discuss safety incidents, is designed to help us have better conversations about this new view of safety. We are an organization built with amazing people who are capable of amazing things. None of that is possible without a sincere commitment to learn every day and make minor improvements that have significant impacts on our future.

As we observe Safety Week 2019, it’s important to step back and remember why all this safety talk matters at all: people. As we work tirelessly to create the safest environment possible, we are mindful of the lasting impacts that injuries have on individuals and their families. To that end, Brasfield & Gorrie has formed a partnership with Kids’ Chance, a nonprofit organization that provides scholarships and support to children who have been affected by workplace injuries. As part of our efforts to support Kids’ Chance, we host fundraising initiatives throughout our footprint during our annual Safety Week observance. View the video below to learn more about Kids’ Chance and why we are honored to continue our partnership with this organization. 

Written by Corporate Safety Director Troy Ogden.