The Supervisor's Role in Serious Injury and Fatality Prevention (SIF)

The Supervisor's Role in Serious Injury and Fatality Prevention (SIF)

First, let's define SIF. A Serious Injury and Fatality (SIF) is an event that is either an injury or near-miss that can result in or has the potential to result in a fatal or life-altering illness or injury. Now that we understand just how serious SIFs are let's try to uncover some best practices for preventing a SIF from occurring in the first place. As a supervisor, you must ensure you understand your role as it relates to the prevention of SIFs. 

In reviewing data published by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, it can be noted that over the last 20 years, the United States has seen a decrease in the Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR). While a drop in incident rate is good, remember that the goal is zero incidents. The flip side of this data is slightly more alarming. SIFs have been on a much slower decline than TRIRs. Data also reveals that SIFs have increased over the last three years. While organizations are doing tremendous work around non-fatal injuries, serious injuries and fatalities still occur. What can we do as supervisors to prevent SIFs? Here are three best practices to help supervisors prevent serious injury and fatalities:


1. Serious Injury and Fatality Training and Education

While supervisors must understand exactly what SIFs are, all employees also need a basic awareness of SIFs. This is the starting point to preventing a SIF in your workplace. It's hard to prevent something that you don't know exists. 

When we talk about training, it's important to understand how SIFs have modified "Heinrich's Classic Safety Triangle." Heinrich's Safety Triangle theorized that for every fatality or major injury, there were 29 minor injuries and 300 non-injury incidents. But if we want to prevent a SIF, we must shift how we view this safety triangle. Supervisors know that not all non-injury incidents are created equally. Each non-injury incident has a varied potential that could result in a SIF. To prevent a SIF from occurring, supervisors need to separate that part of the triangle with the potential for SIFs and do everything possible to prevent those incidents from occurring in the first place.  

Another critical aspect of SIF prevention is understanding that traditional safety performance measures are "after-the-fact" metrics. Lost Time Incidents and Illness Rates are two examples of after-the-fact metrics. As supervisors, we want to shift our mindset to focus on leading indicators, not lagging, so we should pay more attention to events with higher risk potential that could lead to a SIF. Let's work to provide all workers with training that will help to identify and eliminate SIF potential. We want to be proactive in preventing life-threatening and life-altering incidents. 


2. Shift Focus on Potential and Precursors

We now know that traditional safety metrics represent what has already happened. So let's talk about shifting that focus to examine potential and precursors in an effort to see what could happen. Just because an employee has completed an activity without incident or injury doesn't mean that SIF potential doesn't exist. To determine what activities or tasks could result in a SIF, let's ask ourselves a few questions:

  • What are the high-risk activities my employees are involved in?
  • What are the precursors that could lead to a SIF?
  • What could happen because of those precursors?

Identifying work activities with the most significant SIF potential will help eliminate future events. Another powerful tool for finding SIF precursors is to conduct a gap analysis that examines procedures, controls, and employee behavior. This information will be helpful to supervisors when determining what precursors could lead to a serious injury or fatality if not corrected or eliminated. 


3. Conduct Powerful and Effective Risk Assessments 

Risk Assessments will allow you to take inventory of all work tasks/activities and build a risk profile for each. To prevent a SIF, supervisors, and leaders must understand and manage all the conditions employees face and what can be done to improve those conditions. Before starting any risk assessment, it's important to know the difference between hazards and risks. American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) defines hazards as objects, situations, or behaviors with the potential to cause harm to people, property, the environment, or a process. Risk is the combination of the likelihood of an event occurring and the consequence(s) based on the severity of the loss should the event occur. These two definitions are often used interchangeably, but they are vastly different. 

In a risk assessment, it's important to identify all your hazards and list all associated risks. When conducting risk assessments, it is a good idea to tailor the process to each task. Work conditions and SIF potential can change daily, and this could modify how you might categorize and list associated risks. Risk assessments and equipment inspections should become a habit and not something conducted on a set schedule, such as once a year. Operational controls require routine maintenance and inspection. Left unattended, they are bound to fail with time. 

Supervisors should consistently look for ways to inspect and identify SIFs to prevent them from happening. Don McPherson once said, "True prevention is not waiting for bad things to happen, it's preventing things from happening in the first place." While identifying SIF events can often be subjective, understanding and learning from these incidents can provide a key learning opportunity for you and your team. 

Supervisors, challenge yourselves to dive deep into your data, understand where opportunities for SIF exist and create measures to prevent that. Since SIF is present in every organization, prevention requires supervisors to think differently about injuries and events that occur within their organization.

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About the Author

As Director of AEU LEAD, Joe White focuses on helping members transform operational goals into actionable plans through a structured change management process. Prior to joining AEU, Joe was a senior consultant for E.I. DuPont’s consulting division, DuPont Sustainable Solutions (DSS). He joined DSS in 2011 to develop the next generation of safety practices using extensive research in behavioral sciences he’s compiled over a period of nearly two decades. His efforts resulted in the development of The Risk Factor, which is now the flagship instructor-led offering for the consulting division. Combined, Joe has 26 years of operational safety experience, the majority of which was with DuPont. Joe has been published in Occupational Health & Safety Magazine for his prominent work in safety relative to behavioral and neurosciences and is an event speaker at many leading industry conferences including National Safety Council (NSC) Congress and Expos, American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), and National Maritime Safety Association (NMSA). Joe is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and has a B.S., in Safety and Risk Administration.

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