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The Evolution of Workplace Safety

The Evolution of Workplace Safety


Ground Division
Directorate of Assessments and Prevention
U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center
Fort Rucker, Alabama

One of the comments I typically make when mentoring NCOs and young warrant officers is: “The key to our success in managing a successful maintenance program is understanding that we are essentially solving a math problem.” Something leaders must constantly deal with is the fact that there are a finite number of Soldiers available and a fixed amount of time per day with which they can accomplish a mission. One of the greatest resources we must safeguard in our workplace is time. With this in mind, there is a cost involved with every mishap. The cost may be manifested in a permanent disability from an injury or something seemingly insignificant like a few stitches.

Regardless of the amount of time lost, whether it be a few hours or several weeks, the resulting absence of a Soldier from work due to a mishap has an adverse impact on mission accomplishment. Taxpayers have entrusted leaders to ensure their sons and daughters are provided every possible resource to accomplish their assigned jobs safely. They also trust us to be fiscally accountable for every cent they put in our defense budget. Reducing risk and ensuring workers are provided with a safe environment is not a problem unique to the Army. The civilian industry also has been trying to solve the problem, and we can learn from its research on risk mitigation and accident prevention.

One of the first studies to predict mishaps was conducted by American industrial pioneer H.W. Heinrich. In the 1930s, he began to look into mishap rates to find statistical correlations between accidents and their causes. His study resulted in an empirical finding known as Heinrich’s Law, which was published in his book “Industrial Accident Prevention: A Scientific Approach.” Heinrich’s initial studies concluded that for every major injury, there were an additional 29 accidents and 300 mishaps, or close calls that did not cause an injury.

Almost 40 years after Heinrich conducted the first study, Frank E. Bird Jr. offered a fresh look to his model in an attempt to correlate the number of reported accidents with an average population of workers. Bird analyzed more than 1.7 million accidents from 297 companies that represented 21 separate industrial groups that employ over 1.75 million workers. Bird’s study revealed that for every reported major injury, there were 9.8 reported minor injuries, 30.2 property damage accidents and 600 incidents or near misses.

Both of these models have been expressed in what is commonly known as the safety pyramid (see illustration below). The statistics in the safety pyramid model have evolved significantly over the past 75 years with the advent of improved safety devices in machinery, hazard communication at the workplace and leader/worker involvement.

More recently, in 2003, ConocoPhillips Marine added to the work of Heinrich and Bird through an internal study that showed an increase in the ratio between near misses and major injury. The study found that for every major injury or serious incident, there were an estimated 3,000 near misses. The increased distance in the total numbers of near misses to major injuries thus showcased drastic improvements to safety culture and mishap prevention in the workplace. However, the ConocoPhillips study also uncovered an additional layer to the safety pyramid, revealing that for every major injury there were more than 300,000 at-risk behaviors. At-risk behaviors include bypassing safety components on machinery and tools or eliminating time-consuming safety steps.

Knowing the direct correlation between at-risk behaviors and major injuries can help leaders reduce mishaps in their organizations. One of the common methods for mitigating risk is known as “the three E’s of safety.” This involves “engineering” safety components into tools and machinery, “educating” the workforce on safety practices and “enforcing” safety standards and practices. The tools our Soldiers use daily are engineered with safeguards to reduce risk, but it is up to them and leaders to ensure they are used properly. The education aspect incorporates impactful safety training that addresses safety standards and high-risk behaviors. Lastly, one of the best defenses is attained by enforcing standards at all levels and creating a safety climate in your organization where Soldiers understand that completing a maintenance repair early by taking shortcuts or skipping safety steps is unacceptable. Their lives are far more important.

Did You Know?

Each June, the Army observes National Safety Month in conjunction with public and private organizations across the United States. Sponsored by the nonprofit National Safety Council, National Safety Month offers Army leaders a prime opportunity to energize accident prevention efforts and engage Soldiers on safety.

The U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center also launches an Army-wide campaign each year in the month of June to mark National Safety Month. To access the numerous online risk management tools and multimedia products developed to strengthen the current and future Army safety programs, visit https://safety.army.mil/.

  • 1 June 2017
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 2438
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