Cutting-edge strategies: Fatality focus, reporting 'near misses'

Eight sentinel hazards that could take a life

The question "What can kill a worker?" will give you a different kind of answer than asking "What can hurt a worker?" says Gregg Clark, director of global occupational safety and hygiene for Dallas-based Kimberly-Clark Corporation, where a strategy of focusing on fatality elimination is currently being implemented.

"A lot of major corporations are experiencing that the incident rate is tending to go down, but fatality rates are stable," explains Clark. "We are on a couple of key benchmarking task forces that are looking at this phenomenon."

One possible reason for this is that companies are using an incident rate to drive safety performance. "That is a lagging indicator. It is not reflective of what safety is really going on at the facility," says Clark. "We have come up with something that is rather cutting-edge."

Eight Sentinel Event hazard categories were identified as having the potential for a fatal or catastrophic loss. These are falling objects, lift truck events, confined spaces, contact with energized equipment, fire and explosion, falls, transportation, and electrical contact. "If we hit a grand slam in those eight categories, we will eliminate fatalities forever," says Clark.

At the same time, the organization will drive compliance with all required regulations. "It's not that compliance is not important to us, since we believe it is a given," says Clark. "But if we drive safety performance in terms of 'What can kill me?' compliance comes along with that."

Employees will probably think twice before reporting injuries, if the incident rate is used as the sole metric of safety performance. "From a business standpoint, we know what gets measured will get accomplished — one way or another," says Clark. "As business magazines and other periodicals have shown, there is a lot of pressure not to report."

Clark encourages employees to understand, identify and eliminate the hazards associated with Sentinel Events by reminding them that each one has the potential of saving a life. As more events get reported, fewer hazards will exist in the company's facilities. "Zero injuries should be a given or the norm," says Clark.

Over 50,000 employees and contractors at over 100 facilities across the globe are currently being trained in identifying Sentinel Events at their site, and how to resolve them. The expectation is that over 2000 Sentinel Events will be reported over a one-year time period.

"Part of the power of the sheer number of these events is to emphasize our vulnerability and eliminate complacency," says Clark.

Encourage reporting of near misses

It's human nature to want to keep accidents that almost happened, but didn't, to ourselves. However, this is dangerous for employees, according to Frank Ginocchi, director of safety and health at Columbus, OH-based American Electric Power, which has seven electric utility operating units serving over 5.2 million customers in 11 states.

At American Electric Power, where an employee may be working 100 feet in the air on high-voltage electricity or driving a 60-ton bulldozer, a near-miss can result in a catastrophe the next time it occurs. For this reason, the company is creating a culture without fear of retaliation or retribution for reporting near misses.

This message is consistent, from the employee's front line supervisor all the way up to the CEO. "I often repeat messages that start with the CEO all the way down through the organization, that we want people to report both misses and actual hits," says Ginocchi.

"Zero harm" is the company's goal, with workers going home every day, and also at the end of their career, without having any negative health impacts. "We want people to go home at the end of 30 years with their hearing not affected from working near a diesel bucket truck, or negative respiratory impact from working with chemicals, coal, or asbestos," says Ginocchi. "Likewise, we don't want them to go home with a broken arm or a cut."

Reporting near misses is an important part of this approach. "When a worker almost gets injured, that is the best time to learn," says Ginocchi. "The best events to learn from are the ones that have not hurt somebody."

Here are some of the steps that the company has taken:

Employers are encouraged to stop a job if they see a worker doing something unsafe, including contractors.

One employee recently stopped a contractor on a tractor mower from mowing grass on a steep and slippery embankment, due to a high risk of rollover.

The practice of "peer coaching" was borrowed from the aviation and medical industries.

Two front line employees with the same rank are given the responsibility to remind each other to work safely, such as putting on safety goggles or obtaining a fire extinguisher before starting a job. "We have seen the tide turned, so that those reminders are now being viewed as a positive intervention," Ginocchi says. "We want employees to understand that we are all wired to make mistakes."

Since mistakes are more common before and after holiday weekends, employees are reminded to be extra diligent.

"The first day back, we spend extra time on prejob briefings to get people's heads back in the game," says Ginocchi.

Job-specific hazards are carefully identified and mitigated.

Whether an employee is changing a light bulb in a power plant, working on power lines, or working under water, the hazards unique to the job are identified. "Controls are then put into place, to be sure what they've identified doesn't manifest itself in the way of an injury," says Ginocchi.

Videos about actual events are sent out to employees.

Depending on the event, a video of a "Safety Success Story" may be sent out to all 19,000 employees or targeted to a specific business unit. One worker involved in a vehicle rollover emphasized how fortunate he was to be wearing a seatbelt.

"He spoke about how wearing a seatbelt was instilled in him as a core value from the day he started working here," says Ginocchi. "He reflected on how quickly his life could have been changed."

For more information on evaluating workplace safety programs, contact:

Frank Ginocchi, Director, Safety and Health, American Electric Power, Columbus, OH. Phone: (614) 716-1220. E-mail: fmginocchi@aep.com.

Gregg Clark, Director, Global Occupational Safety and Hygiene, Kimberly-Clark Professional, Dallas, TX. E-mail: Gregg.L.Clark@kcc.com.