Safety data discrepancies demand further investigation

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Wednesday, 23 August, 2017 - 10:45
Media release
National News

Historical workplace injury and fatality data can provide valuable insight into patterns and trends of safety performance, according to an expert in the area, who said safety data can be used to help understand what to do to improve or where to look for improvements.

For example, Safe Work Australia collects and analyses safety data from each of state and jurisdiction, and a recent report shows there were close to 200 fatalities in 2015 (with the rate of reduction trend slowing).

The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Emergency Management Authority (NOPSEMA) collects data including safety data for the offshore petroleum industry, and its recent annual report shows (for the first time) that there were no fatalities in their jurisdiction in 2014 to 2015.

“The difference in these two data sets triggers further investigation to understand the reasons for the differences,” said senior lecturer in OHS at Edith Cowan University, Dr. Marcus Cattani, who was speaking ahead of the Perth Safety Symposium which will be held on Friday 13 October 2017 at Edith Cowan University.

He also gave the example of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) which collects statistics from the countries of the United Nations concerned with workplace fatalities and injuries.

“The freely available results of this global safety data collection exercise are staggering,” he said.

“I regularly ask my safety management students to estimate the numbers of people fatally or seriously injured at work, as reported by the ILO, as an indication of the size of the problem they will be faced with after graduating.”

Generally, Cattani said their estimate of the number of people injured globally is less than the actual number injured in Australia alone with the reported number of workplace injuries globally being 317 million per annum (with approximately 100,000 in Australia).

“Comparing actual performance with the desired future performance is an essential part of the continuous improvement process, and the gap between these two criteria helps define the improvements required, their priority for action and resources required,” said Cattani.

As an example, he mentioned the West Australian Department of Mines and Petroleum analysis of fatalities and serious injuries, which highlighted several priorities for action, including the training, competency and skills of frontline supervisors.

“I suggest that every OHS professional should understand the state of their ‘nation’, as without a clear understanding of current performance it is difficult to plan performance improvement and achieve their desired future state,” he said.

“The effective use of safety data can provide a fairly straightforward opportunity to investigate performance.

“We need to learn from our past performance. What can we see in previous years’ performance which will help us with the likely future performance?”

Cattani said nations, organisations and individuals need to gain an understanding of their priorities for improvement.

“Collecting and analysing safety data is essential if a nation or an organisation decides to develop a strategy for performance improvement,” he said.

“In fact, apart from the smallest organisations, unless there is a process in place to measure safety performance, it is unlikely performance will meet expectations.”

While government agencies tend to measure and benchmark injury and incident data, one of the recurring topics of conversation in the safety profession is the development of suitable measurements of safety performance, Cattani added.

“The absence of a measureable unit of safety performance, such as incident or injury risk, has resulted in debate about the most suitable way to measure the outcome of our efforts,” he said.

“Since it has been decided that the unit of measurement is number of injuries, industry logically counts the number of injuries and responds appropriately.”

Cattani said there are some good opportunities to use the large amount of safety data collected to do some more interesting statistics.

While a tool to forecast injury risk is not yet a reality, he said can give an indication of how effective data analysis may assist in the future.

“Some of the larger organisations and database services providers inform me they are also trying to use safety data more innovatively,” he said.

“Perhaps the use of artificial intelligence to investigate ‘big data’ holds the answer?”

Cattani will speak at the Perth Safety Symposium 2017, which will be held on Friday 13 October 2017 at Edith Cowan University, Mount Lawley Campus. For more information visit the Perth Safety Symposium website.