Wednesday, September 18, 2019
Statistics don’t lie and we can use them to shape our future safety programmes, says Steve Hutin, the managing director of Rope and Sling Specialists Ltd.
I was reading an article posted on the Lifting Equipment Engineers Association (LEEA) website last week about how it will join the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents’ (RoSPA) National Occupational Safety & Health Committee (NOSHC).
I applaud the endeavour but it’s really the overarching theme of the story, and the likely reasons for LEEA joining the committee, that I want to focus on—the startling statistics revealed in the Health & Safety Executive’s (HSE) recently published report titled, ‘Workplace fatal injuries in Great Britain, 2019’.
The document is 16 pages long but the headline figures include:
‘A total of 147 workers were killed at work in Great Britain in 2018/19.’
‘…25% of fatal injuries in 2018/19 were to workers aged 60 and over, even though such workers made up only around 10% of the workforce.’
The fact that 147 workers were fatally injured is heartbreaking when you consider that all of these people had circles of close friends and families around them to a larger or lesser extent. Some would have been mothers, fathers, brothers, girlfriends, team captains, coaches, philanthropists, and so on. They would have had friends and acquaintances going back many decades in some cases. Consider then that the stat is really 147 multiplied by all those people impacted. It’s a frightening realisation given they all left home and likely said, “I’ll be back in time for dinner” to someone, perhaps even their young children.
Honestly, I wasn’t totally surprised that fatalities were in the hundreds—we all hear too many stories for this not to be the case—but I’ll admit to being shocked that a quarter of fatal injuries were to workers aged 60 and over given that, as the report says, such workers only make up only around 10% of the workforce. Think about that for a moment.
A troubling graph in the report shows the fatal injury rate by age group for the period 2014/15-2018/19. HSE says, ‘This shows how the rate of fatal injury increases with age, with workers aged 60-64 having a rate around twice as high as the all ages rate, and workers aged 65 and over a rate more than four times as high as the all ages rate. Almost all the main industry sectors show an age gradient in fatal injury rate.’
These stats suggest that we all need to look again at our approach to safety and consider how age impacts our procedures and protocols. Many believe that experienced people have a better understanding of safety and standards, but these latest HSE stats belie that theory somewhat. It’s important not to speculate but the report certainly suggests we might be advised to consider how safe our own employees and peers aged 60 and over are when they go to work.
Of course, not all of these fatally injured people would have been at fault themselves but the stats tell a story nonetheless. I wonder to what extent fitness, health, eyesight, hearing, etc. played a role. Or was complacency a cause, perhaps when someone was carrying out a task unsafely because that’s the way they’ve done it for years? Were any of these people, or those that caused these accidents, trying to take a shortcut rather than following proper procedure? Obviously, the fastest way isn’t usually the best or the safest.
There are two things a company can introduce tomorrow to improve safety, for employees aged 16 to 76:
1. Lead by example culture
As managing director of a company, I recognise that people look to me to set the culture. If I sped into the car park late for work, threw my litter out of the window, and didn’t wear personal protective equipment (PPE) on site, what are the chances of my staff adhering to the strictest safety procedures? Not high. I can’t pretend I’ve never taken a short cut—I’m human—but it’s important that we all remind ourselves how important it is to respect safety.
Remember, you don’t have to be a managing director to set an example—you can work in the post-room and inspire others.
2. Near-miss reporting
As the HSE says, ‘A simple, and potentially anonymous, system for reporting near-miss incidents is a very important way of identifying problem areas.’ I accept that it can be difficult for a young person to find a flaw with the way a senior colleague is working but actually you don’t need to have 20 years of experience to know if something isn’t right; sometimes it’ll be obvious to a person on their first day of work. I’d encourage everyone to speak up.
Again, I have to be careful not to speculate, but how many of the 147 workers killed at work in Great Britain in 2018/19 might be alive today if someone somewhere had noticed a safety oversight and reported it? Further, in how many cases might a neglect of safety procedures been flagged up but not acted upon by a chain of command? It’s hugely important that near-miss reporting triggers investigation and action. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Never too old to learn
It can be difficult to encourage older people to retrain and it’s possible to detect a more experienced person’s attitude to safety. There are two ways to respond to an instruction to participate in training, for example:
1. ‘Why are you sending me back to school? I already know how to do my job better than the person giving the course.’
2. ‘That’s interesting. I’m always looking for reassurance that I’m working to the highest possible safety standards. As I get older, I might need more refresher courses too.’
I know which one I’d rather hear from all of my staff, especially those aged 60 and over.
Of course, the matters above are particularly eye opening to anyone working in an ageing sector, like the lifting industry. Further, as people are required to work longer, we’re not seeing those in their late teens or early 20s coming into the industry fresh and ready to train. Instead, they’re joining in their 30s. It’s a missed opportunity for an industry because young people don’t arrive with baggage or bad habits; they can be moulded into safe, consummate professionals. It’s true that they need supervision and leadership but that’s the easy part; the problem is stopping our industry ageing beyond the point of repair.
I wish LEEA every success with the RoSPA NOSHC project, but we’ve all got our work cut out to make the numbers in the next ‘Workplace fatal injuries in Great Britain’ report much more pleasant reading.
Wave the HSE report under the nose of anyone in doubt of the importance of safety. Occupational health and safety (OH&S) management systems must always be paramount, as anyone migrating to ISO 45001:2018 will testify.
Rope and Sling Specialists Ltd