Author Bio ▼

Dominic Cooper PhD is a chartered fellow of IOSH and a professional member of the American Society of Safety Engineers. He is co-founder and CEO of BSMS Inc., a global safety consulting firm based in Franklin, IN, USA. A chartered psychologist, Dominic consults with senior executives on safety leadership, culture and behaviour change. He has authored many books, articles and scientific research papers on safety culture, behavioural-safety and leadership.

March 15, 2016

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Wake up Britain: We are being too complacent about our safety performance

alarm-clock-590383_640In my SHP Online blog (UK Incident Statistics: Are we really making a difference?), I wrote that fatality reduction had begun to show statistically significant reductions only in the past three years, as determined by Statistical Process Control (SPC) charts. I suggested any downward trends in serious injuries and fatalities since 2007/8 was due in large part to the number of people in work, rather than a direct result of our combined efforts in the safety profession to improve safety: as unemployment reduces, the number of injuries is likely to rise again.

This is exactly what is happening. Unemployment rates dropped in 2014/15, while the latest provisional data released by HSE shows 142 worker fatalities between April 2014 and March 2015, compared to 136 in the previous year (a 4 per cent increase). A similar increase is also likely to be reflected in the number of severe injuries, when that data are released later in the year. In other words, as a profession we are simply treading water: We are not making the difference we want.

Both HSE and IOSH rightly lament that one death is too many, but then go on to put a positive spin on things. Judith Hackett states “the trend continues to be one of improvement” and that we are much safer as a country compared with many other industrialised nations. IOSH mirrors such sentiments by stating “The wave of positive change towards better safety, health and wellbeing at work is growing”. Such statements lead everyone by-the-nose to be complacent. If we don’t explicitly recognise we have a problem with people dying and being seriously injured at work, we are not going to improve the current situation.

The figures in the SPC chart below, obtained from the HSE website, show the actual numbers of fatalities since 1994/95 to date. The recent HSE press release states we have “halved the number of injuries in the past 20 years”. This is simply not true. In 1994/95 there were 191 deaths. With 142 last year, we have reduced the number of deaths by only 26 per cent.

Cooper1

IOSH highlights that 142 deaths is less than the 155 average deaths for the past five years: this is much too short a timeframe to make any meaningful comparisons. We need to look at the long-term data to make valid statistical comparisons, not just focus on the past five years; the greater the sample size the more robust the inferences. Until such time as we consistently breach the third lowest control limit, it is difficult to claim we really are making a difference. The SPC chart shows we are a long way from doing so, and that we in the British safety profession are not making the difference we believe we are.

The recent HSE press release states “all workplace fatalities drive the HSE to develop even more effective interventions to reduce death, injury and ill health.” Although that’s debatable, this does highlight an urgent need to focus on identifying what we need to do to reduce the number of fatalities. In my view, all UK safety professionals and bodies (i.e. HSE, IOSH, BSC, RoSPA, etc.,) need to actively and explicitly focus on encouraging companies to identify, control, and eliminate potential Serious Injuries and Fatalities (SIFs)[1].

The HSE also needs to raise its game by increasing the number of HSE inspections, as well as automatically prosecuting senior managers, company directors/owners for corporate manslaughter, whenever a fatality occurs. In this way, companies may be motivated to address and manage identified hazards and risks they have left for another day. In turn, the potential for a serious injury or fatality will be diminished.

Your thoughts?

[1] Cooper, Dominic (2014). Identifying, Controlling and Eliminating Serious Injury and Fatalities. In Heather Beach (ed.) “Beyond Compliance: Innovative Leadership in Health and Safety”, SHP/UBM, pages 23-

This blog was originally published on SHP Online in July 2015, and was one of our top performing articles.

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Bernard Gale

Statistics will always be used to give the answer needed
For years aircraft manufactures quoted data from the year after the big crash
The Office of national statistics is supposed to give best data comparisons. It would be very serious if we had a rise in the number if accidents per 100,000 employed
But do we see that data?

Dominic Cooper
Hi Bernard This is part of the HSE press release: Provisional annual data released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reveals 142 workers were fatally injured at work between April 2014 and March 2015 (a rate of 0.46 fatalities per 100,000 workers). This compares to last year’s all-time low of 136 (0.45 fatalities per 100,000 workers). So YES, it is serious. Why do you think I raised the alarm. I warned of it last year, and now we see it all coming to fruition. Going forward, it is all about what we can do to get this under control.… Read more »
john green

whilst one of the goals of the profession should be the reduction and elimination of serious harm the obsession with statistics can lead us to believe that safety is the absence of something. In other words good safety is present when our numbers are low (or even zero). This has to be a preposterous assumption – surely safety has to be about capacity to manage change, resilience or the ability to adapt and not simply and nothing going wrong.

Dominic Cooper
The injury statistics are simply used as a lagging indicator to highlight that our HSE processes are not under control. If they were, people would not be killed or severely injured at work. Clearly, there is a need for them (in the same way as there is for quality defects). An in-depth analysis of the “incidents” should point to the root causes (I have not seen any analysis that points to those), that can help us manage change, and adapt appropriately. Thus we cannot have all the things you highlight, without also having a sense of where the issues and… Read more »
Vince Butler
Its time for a new approach. Quite simply change our language and narrative to ‘plan and control’ work. From making a coffee for your work colleagues right through to sending a rocket ship to another planet and everything in between – its really all about:- what is the plan – and – how are we keeping control? The plan and control mechanisms must be relevant, specific, valuable and proportional to the risks associated. Any business function/activity:- finance; projects; HR; environment; production; operations; logistics; marketing, inventions, anything….. will be more successful if there is a plan and we keep control –… Read more »
Dominic Cooper

Hi Vince. Very good practical suggestion, backed up by SIF research showing Job Planning accounts for around 30% of all potential SIFs. I guess the question is how do we do get this change in language and narrative? Perhaps, NEBOSH, IOSH and the HSE will take note, and begin to change the language and approach in their documentation / communications, whilst practitioners also do the same within their companies. Your suggestion could lead to a significant positive impact. Thanks.

Vince Butler

Thanks for the positive feedback.
As a practitioner, I have already introduced the new concept and language of ‘plan & control work’ intertwined with accident causation and controls being relevant, specific, valuable and proportional (RSVP) with quite spectacular success.
The number of delegates I coach who have a ‘eureka or ta-daaaaa’ moment in the session is astounding. Generally most comments and feedback would be:- “why hasn’t anyone ever explained safety like that before?”
Mystique, complexity, ‘elf-n-safety’, rules, ‘just backside covering’ etc. all debunked!
Perhaps you’d like to discuss this further, I certainly would.

Dominic Cooper

Hi Vince

Would love to discuss this further. Are your delegates managers, employees or a mix of both?

Vince Butler

A full cross section of every grade from 1st year apprentices age 16, office staff, site staff, right up to the CEO and everyone in-between.
Every industry sector, every business type, every size of company and virtually every type of workplace hazard are encountered by the 4000 workforce who are by and large peripatetic electrical and mechanical contracting craftsmen. A medium/high hazard job – undertaken in a multitude of work environments and scenarios and ‘one size fits all’ – plan + control work.
I hope this helps.

Mick

This supports my personal belief that the UK should be measuring injuries as rate based upon hours or days worked. There are many such rate calculations that can be adopted which would provide a more accurate result, and can be found in use in various industries, US automotive companies being a prime example. basing measures on numbers of employee will always be flawed as some work 60 hours a week, others work 6 hours.

Dominic Cooper
Hi Mick. Injury Rates can be useful and also misleading, whereas the raw numbers simply show how many people are being injured or killed. Each of the fatalities is a death that is permanent. The families do not care about rates per 200K, 100K or per million. They care that their family member has been killed or injured at work and that this is going to impact on their economic well-being. Workplace incidents also affect the economic well-being of the companies concerned and their employees. For example, a lot of people lost their jobs in Bosley last week, while 4… Read more »
Tam
Very interesting timing. I just release a post about Target Zero concept, and have a debate on several LinkedIn groups going. It would be great if you could bring your insights to the discussion. Look for EHS Professionals group – and please come share your findings. I agree with you thought about needing to focus more on “encouraging companies to identify, control, and eliminate potential Serious Injuries and Fatalities” I would push to take this one step more – encourage all employees – site staff thru to senior leaders & CEO – to do this. (perhaps that is how you… Read more »
Martyn

Hi Dom, not having seen any of the details of the serious injuries and fatalities would there be any correlation with the number of foreign workers now working in some areas of industry in which they can perhaps be more easily “cajoled” into bad practices or even maybe misunderstand what bad practices are not now acceptable under our Health and Safety laws?

Dominic Cooper

Hi Martyn. Nice to hear from you. It’s been a long time. Hope you are well. Unfortunately, I do not know the answer to your question as I have not seen that type of data analysis. Perhaps the HSE can shed light on this issue, or at least tell us whether they have looked at it or not

Dominic Cooper

Hi Tamara. As my grandmother taught me, “if you treat people as you want to be treated, you cannot go far wrong!” We do know that an engaged employee is 5 times less likely to be involved in a workplace safety incident, and 7 times less likely to experience a Lost-time injury. If we treat the workforce with respect they are more likely to become engaged. After all who is going to be motivated to become engaged in safety, if your treated with disrespect!

Paul Cookson
Everyone is right, you/we all believe we have a good idea and the best way to reduce accidents/fatalities, but because everyone has a differing opinion it loses its focus as employees can be bombarded with too many “initiatives” and the latest “buzz words” and they lose interest. Health and safety is “boring” and “gets in the way” for most employees who would rather be anywhere else than at work. Health and safety advisors/consultants/managers etc must be engaging and speak to all at the relevant level required, and absolutely must have proper and full support of directors and the rest of… Read more »
Dominic Cooper
I posted a link to this article in some linkedin groups. Here is a summary of people’s views by topic Complacency Some people call it the concertina effect Dr Dom, people/organisations get to a certain point and then sometimes they take their “foot off the gas” as things seem ok. Same effect as many people when they try to lose weight! There are solutions to blast through this problem though. Health and safety is now seen as a value for some organisations and individuals and they continue to perform well. In others it has become a burden – especially in… Read more »
Dominic Cooper
I posted a link to this article in some linkedin groups. Here is a summary of people’s views by topic Cost-cutting Perhaps, due to another economic crisis (when is there not one somewhere) people are cutting costs everywhere, leading to managers taking focus of this important area due to stresses within their organisation that potentially, could/has lead to these very serious accidents/fatality. Complacency, lack of regulatory enforcement, increase in work activity, poorly trained or even untrained operatives, the list goes on. Economy downturn , company re-structure, budget reduction, training cut, skilled workers seeing the risks and moving on, lack of… Read more »
Dominic Cooper
I posted a link to this article in some linkedin groups. Here is a summary of people’s views by topic Adverse Media Effect Part of the problem is that the role that safety management plays in the workplace has been ridiculed by various parts of the media – ”elf n safety gone mad” For some in the profession there is a view that the UK is the safest place to work and therefore it is all OK. I don’t believe that’s the case and the only way we remain as a leader in health and safety is by really digging… Read more »
Dominic Cooper
I posted a link to this article in some linkedin groups. Here is a summary of people’s views by topic Regulator Part of the problem is the regulators no longer have the resources to carry out their roles as they did. The government has taken the teeth away from the HSE and are currently getting rid of the best part of 50 years of existing legislation in the hope that a “one size fits all” legislative framework will work. Add to that the profits come first mentality of some companies and the resulting rise in fatal accidents in inevitable. I… Read more »
Dominic Cooper
I posted a link to this article in some linkedin groups. Here is a summary of people’s views by topic Proposed Actions I agree with your thoughts in relation to the elimination of SIF’s before they come to fruition. I do however feel that we need to raise the profile and understanding of the benefits of avoiding unsafe acts and unsafe conditions within the workplace with employers and to highlight the consequences for them if they fail to treat this requirement seriously in order to achieve this goal. For sure the increase of SIF reflects a certain complacency or a… Read more »
Dominic Cooper

45 known Fatalities so far 2015-2106.

April = 17
May = 7
June = 10
July = 11

Average of 11 per month! So we are on target for around 132, before we even know the official figures.

Dominic Cooper

With updated figures (Apr 2105 – Jan 22, 2016) from the HSE website showing 124 deaths by 3rd Week of Jan 2016, it looks like the number of UK fatalities for the year 2015/6 will be in the region of 148/9. Worse than last year!

The official fatality figures posted are

Apr = 19
May = 8
June = 14
July = 21
Aug = 11
Sept = 15
Oct = 7
Nov = 10
Dec = 10
Jan = 9

With an average of 12.4 Deaths per Month, and with 2 months to go giving us another 24/5, the likely number of deaths in 2015/6 will be 148/9 (at the current rate)

Sheri Suckling
I agree that we need to guard against complacency; why would you rely on prosecutions and fear tactics to achieve this? Here in New Zealand, the emphasis on greater penalties is largely driving a wave of hysteria that actually detracts from the key focus of safety legislation – i.e., to keep our workers safe – and instead drives the behaviours of business leaders focusing more intently on keeping themselves out of jail. there is so much research out there in the fields of neuroscience and psychology showing that fear is not only a ‘closed down’ and defensive state from which… Read more »
Gav

What does the trend look like if the denominator is per million hours worked? I’m surprised because it seems (to the layman) that the country is more safety focused. From roadworks to building sites – safety awareness seems to be much more on radar than I remember it 20 years ago.

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