16th February, 2021
It's been over a year since the last injury in your workplace. But just because you haven't had any accidents, doesn't mean you are safe or that your health and safety performance is good. Your accident reporting system might just be hiding the truth. No injuries, no problems!? Don't count on it.
You may be familiar with the X days since signs. X days since the last accident, X days without an injury, X days since a reportable incident, etc. These health and safety signs are often displayed in workplaces as a safety badge of honour. They are also used as an incentive. A common goal to get everyone to work together to keep that number rising, and beat your last accident free streak. And avoiding injuries is something to be proud of, of course.
You might have also seen these signs in TV shows and films, and they are often used as a parody for a workplace with poor health and safety standards, and it's either used ironically or the sign has to be frequently reset.
There's nothing wrong with the idea behind the sign, or being proud of the time you have been accident-free. The problem comes when you use reported injuries as your only health and safety performance indicator.
If you have no injuries up on that board, you can pat yourself on the back and know that your health and safety procedures are top-notch, right?
Just because you haven't had any accidents for several days, or even a whole year, doesn't mean your workplace is safe. The opposite could be true. Let's consider the averages. In 2019/20 there were 111 fatal injuries to workers and 65,427 non-fatal injuries to employees reported under RIDDOR. In 2019 the ONS estimated that 32.9 million people were employed in the UK. A very basic calculation (not taking into account industry or type of work) gives you around a 0.2% chance of being killed or injured at work on average.
So if you haven't had any injuries for weeks, or months, that doesn't mean that health and safety standards are good. It might just mean that an accident hasn't happened yet.
The numbers of reported accidents and injuries are relatively low in most companies. Unless you employ thousands of people, accidents just are not going to happen that frequently. Because of this, your accident statistics produce a low amount of data, and therefore a limited amount of information. It can't reliably be used, by itself, to measure your health and safety performance.
Even if you have really poor health and safety standards, your workers will try not to get hurt. And they may succeed, for a time, despite the hazards and risks they face.
And if you are waiting for a reported injury to alert you that there's a health and safety problem, then that means someone has to get hurt before you make it safer. And it shouldn't be that way. In fact, the law requires you to reduce risk as low as is reasonably practicable (ALARP), not after the event, but as part of your planning and preparation.
You might not have any injuries. But you may have workers getting ill from exposure to hazardous chemicals, dust, or fumes. You might have workers developing hearing loss from noise exposure. Or problems with their hands from exposure to vibrating tools. Or skin problems from contact with irritants. Or lung disease from breathing in contaminated air. Or alcohol abuse caused by work-related stress. None of these issues are injuries, but they are all health and safety problems.
You might not have any injuries. But you may have near misses happening weekly where members of your team are narrowly avoiding getting hurt. Workers tripping over trailing cables. Materials falling from scaffolding. Tools breaking. Blades slipping.
You might not have injuries. But you may have plenty of dangerous conditions that could cause harm. Cluttered workplace. Blocked fire exits. Exposed edges creating a fall risk. Unplanned lifting activities. Untested equipment. No emergency arrangements.
You might even have injuries. But maybe they are minor, so nobody bothered to report it. They might have even decided not to report so that the accident-free streak remains in place. Especially since it's related to the end of the year bonus.
But if limited data on injuries is not the best way to measure health and safety performance, what's the alternative? In most cases, you should supplement the data with other indicators. You can look at accident statistics across your entire industry (using HSE statistics) to determine high-risk activities. You can use near-miss reporting to identify problems before accidents happen. You can monitor the health of your workforce to find places where further controls are necessary. You can carry out spot checks on-site to see if safety rules are being followed.
Just because you haven't had any accidents, doesn't mean you are safe. What about the potential for future accidents and injuries? What about workers health? What could go wrong, what is going wrong, and how can it be stopped before an accident happens? Because if you just wait for a reported injury to tell you things have gone wrong, you've left it too late.
If you only record injuries, consider collecting more health and safety data for better monitoring of your health and safety performance. Consider adding near misses and health surveillance to your internal accident reporting procedure.
This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.
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