Unintended Consequences with Injury Rate Reporting

OSHA data shouldn't be only source

While walking through a work area, an employee steps into a hole that was left unguarded, and twists his ankle. He doesn't tell his supervisor because he doesn't want to negatively affect Occupational Safety and Health Administration recordable injury rates.

Your company may be trying to do the right thing by putting a great deal of focus on injury rates, but there could be an unintended consequence. "While recordable injury rates and severity rates based on days away from work or restricted duty can be one indicator of success, these shouldn't be the only indicator," says Frank Ginocchi, director of safety and health at Columbus, OH-based American Electric Power.

In many workplaces, employees fear retaliation if injuries are reported. "Companies may impose pressure on employees not to report, to keep injury rates low and therefore, keep incentive plan payouts higher," says Ginocchi.

Measuring failures

Recordable injury rates are actually failures that have already occurred. "We are moving towards measuring leading indicators of safety and health improvement," reports Ginocchi. "The idea is to identify hazards ahead of time, before they become a trap for somebody."

Metrics include the number of job hazard analyses that have been completed, the number of job observations done by supervisors, and the amount of peer coaching done by employees. "Those things are a better indicator of success," says Ginocchi. "Then, the injury rates just fall in line. We don't have to worry about the injury rates — they are taken care of."

Two common mistakes are blaming an employee for his or her injury, says Gregg Clark, director of global occupational safety and hygiene for Dallas-based Kimberly-Clark Corporation, or jumping to the wrong conclusion about what caused the injury.

"If you stop too quickly before identifying the system failure, it can recur in the future," says Clark. "It's always a challenge to get everyone to really drive to get to the root cause."

While incident rates are overly emphasized at many companies, these do need to be tracked. "But it should be one piece of data, not the only piece of data," says Clark. "You can achieve an incident rate of zero for weeks or months and have a fatality the next day. If you are surprised when that happens, there's something wrong with that."