Data plainly indicate that the number of workplace fatalities and fatality rates have decreased significantly. But, statistics on fatalities for the past several years are in a narrow range. While serious injuries have also been reduced, they have become a larger percentage of workers' compensation claims. For both serious injuries and fatalities, stellar achievements seem to have plateaued.
Results are such that safety practitioners should reassess the bases for the advice they provide decision makers and determine whether they should adjust that advice to further reduce the occurrence of serious injuries and fatalities. This article offers guidance to that purpose.
The reductions in the number of fatalities and the fatality rates from 1971 through 2016, as shown in the following statistical exhibits, are truly commendable. Those reductions occurred while employment increased 78%. But it is also plain to see that in the most recent 6 years, both the numbers of fatalities and the fatality rates are statistically in a very narrow range.
Tables 1 through 5 display the significance of the incident reductions achieved over many years.
Although an increase in the number of fatalities and the fatality rate occurred in 2016, as shown in Table 1, safety practitioners should avoid suggesting that the trend itself is a major indicator. Fatality rates for the past 6 years have varied from 3.3 to 3.6, which is not statistically a large spread.
Also, safety practitioners should be particularly aware of the trend experienced by the organizations they advise and of the trend for their industry. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data for manufacturing are indicative; while the number of fatalities and the fatality rate were lower in 2016, the trend for the past 6 years is within a narrow range and may be considered as having plateaued.
As Table 3 shows, clearly a significant reduction occurred in the percent of lost workday cases for incidents resulting in less-severe injuries, from 1 day through 6 to 10 days. More serious injuries, from 21 to 30 through 31 or more days, are a larger share of the remaining total. Safety practitioners should be attentive to the signal in the 62% increase in cases resulting in 31 or more days of lost time.