Safety, is it a numbers game?


Last week I attended an Occupational Hygiene event at Fota Island Resort in Cork, organised by Dermot Moloney & Associates. Professor Anne Drummond opened the day by saying “our ways of collecting Health and Safety (H&S) data is not very robust, the effects are probably a lot higher than we think”. I agree wholeheartedly with Prof Drummond, and believe we have a long way to go before we can stand over our H&S stats and say that they reflect the true picture of what is happening in our workplaces.

Benchmarking, in its truest form, gives organisations an opportunity to compare their safety performance to others in their industry, either in-house or external, and to learn from others on how to further improve their H&S systems. Unfortunately an all-too familiar use of benchmarking is under-reporting the levels of injuries and illnesses, so as to appear favourably within industry and to external bodies such as the Health & Safety Authority (HSA). This can drip feed pressure downwards towards contractors, who when submitting tenders for projects, can be dismissed from the process if their H&S statistics don’t reflect favourably when compared to others.

The practical implications of under-reporting may be that employees injured while at work are brought in on ‘light duties’ so as not to have to report to the HSA that they were out of work for more than three consecutive days as a result of that injury. Or maybe employees who are suffering from burnout due to overcommitment or excessive demands being placed on them in their role are out now on ‘exhaustion’, but not necessarily reported as work-related. If under-reporting exists and is encouraged, we are missing out on opportunities to improve our H&S systems and to learn from each other so as to protect our employees & businesses from harm.

On a positive note, it is encouraging to see someone leading the way in reversing this trend. John Green, HSEQ Director with Laing O’Rourke, is leading the way on the practical implementation of ‘Safety Differently, a new approach to safety led by Prof Sidney Dekker of Griffith University. When tenders come in now to Laing O’Rourke for large construction projects, John is not interested in playing the numbers game by looking only at their safety stats or bench-marking, but in having a real conversation with the contractors asking ‘what are you willing to do to ensure no-one gets hurt on this project?’. John has had great success with ‘Safety Differently’ to date in Australia, and in addition to improved safety performance; engagement and morale within all levels of Laing O’Rourke are moving in the right direction.

While we wait for our reporting systems to become more robust and reflect the reality of our workplaces, maybe there is something we can do to discourage the numbers game in safety. Is ‘Safety Differently’ something worth considering within your organisation? If you would like to discuss Safety Differently, please contact us, we would be delighted to help…

Phone no. +353 87 6409975
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