November 10, 2009
When considering activities that can affect your company's bottom line, don't overlook the positive difference tracking injuries can make. Recording and analyzing injury data can help you identify and correct problem areas, properly plan for production alterations should an injury occur, and reduce the impact of lost workdays.
About 10 years ago I inherited our company's safety program. What a sobering moment that was for me as I found myself mentally grappling with how to best track our injuries and trends at the company. We were transitioning from the "mom and pop"business mentality toward a global business mentality. It's much easier to yell across the cubicle wall when only a handful of folks are in the office.
You can have a false sense of security concerning solid documentation of procedures and processes when yours is a small company. Of course you keep all of the required OSHA documentation and such, but outside of that you may struggle to see the real value in tracking injuries in a more methodical way. I remember when we all knew each other by first and last name and even knew a good bit about each other's families. I could tell you which individuals had been injured in the plant and almost recite each injury scenario from memory. It was more difficult in those days to fully accept the value of accurately and methodically tracking each injury in detail. Looking back, I am so thankful now that we adopted a sound tracking method.
Many times I have been asked what the best method of tracking injuries is. Is one tracking software better than another? I believe that the overall tracking principles remain the same across industries; however, each company should be approached in a unique manner. I see no value in a company of five employees investing $50,000 in a software suite to manage injury information. I have touched on this topic in other articles but would like to expound on it here.
It is generally agreed that a spreadsheet is a globally accepted method of organizing information so that it can be manipulated at the time of data entry or at a later date. Many spreadsheets now are free and also compatible with various software platforms.
Sometimes an insurance provider will track injuries as part of its agreement and can dump its information into a spreadsheet for you, but I must caution you about depending solely on this information. Tracking and detailing injury accounts should be handled in-house and in a formal manner. The devil often is in the details. Insurance documentation generally is a summary of the details provided by the employer. Many worthwhile tidbits can be lost if you rely solely on the insurance provider. However, the insurance provider should not be completely overlooked as it can provide the most accurate information after the claim has been formally filed.
A mix of ideologies works well. I suggest that you establish a spreadsheet database initially at the time of the injury and leave available fields open to enter information from the insurance provider as necessary.
Deciding what fields you need in your spreadsheet requires a delicate balance. Sometimes too much information is as bad as or even worse than not enough. The first word of caution is to leave your personal opinions out of company injury documentation. Suspecting that your employee smokes marijuana on Sunday afternoon is not the kind of personal statement that should be inserted into formal documentation of injuries for tracking purposes.
The safety officer must document only what he or she knows to be true as related to the injury. If other personnel issues are suspected, then the human resources (HR) department can be notified, so that they can better address any problems.
When deciding the fields, think long-term. If you as a safety officer were in your same position at the same company 20 years from now, what do you think you would need in terms of documentation to better track your trends? Here is a highly simplified list of basic fields.
Name—The injured employee's name goes here and should match on all documentation. Don't list it one way on the Form 19 and then another in your tracking database. This will only lead to confusion down the road.
Date and Time—Be specific. List the date, time of day, and day of the week the injury occurred. This information is very valuable for tracking after compiling several years' worth of data. In my company, we have isolated days of the week and specific times of day that we anticipate injuries based on our historic tracking.
Shift—Believe it or not, it is important to know which shift your injured employee is working if multiple shifts are worked at the facility being tracked. Certain shifts may reflect specific types of injuries. Accurate tracking identifies the shift in which problems are occurring.
Identification is the first key. After identification the safety officer must work with management to identify root causes within the shift. For example, I observed an instance in which one shift felt slighted because they perceived they were classified differently than other shifts. In this case, the negative morale was related to the type and frequency of work-related injuries. This is just one example. There could obviously be many root causes, but unless the specific shift of employees has been identified, the potential issues could take years to identify and resolve.
Injury Description—Spreadsheets generally contain small blocks in which specific bits of information are entered. Sometimes it is easy to overload a cell, which in a sense defeats the intended purpose of quickly identifying and sorting information.
Most spreadsheets have ways of adding comments to cells. The spreadsheet will display the basic, essential information, but when you hover the cursor over the cell, more information is exposed. The ability to add comments is a great way to add specific details regarding injuries yet keep the spreadsheet highly sortable.
In the description field, I usually include the employee's detailed recollection of events, any witness accounts, and my summary of events, information that is very important when analyzing injuries several years after the fact. Again, the summary listed in my database is free of personal opinions regarding an employee. Safety professionals need to be able to identify quickly the what, when, where, why, and how. This is most accurately reflected by the facts of each case, not the opinions.
Once a claim has been filed, the broker or insurance carrier (or both) usually keeps detailed records of costs, claim durations, and other claim-related information. It is useful to be able to add items to your spreadsheet such as the initial estimated costs of injuries versus the actual costs incurred. The total dollar amount of the claim is very nice to have.
Also, it's good to know the claim duration. As you track trends, it becomes evident that certain types of claims tend to cost more or less than others and duration times tend to vary. Knowing these things at the time of an injury (based on history, tracking, and trends) helps management teams better identify personnel shortages within critical areas.
Knowing how long a specific injury might keep an employee from work is very important. For example, if three employees critical to company processes are thought to have a minor injury that could cause them to miss one or two days of work later are found to have more serious injuries that require them to miss a month or more, production and shipping could be unexpectedly delayed and business harmed.Good safety officers should be able to supply this information to their management teams within a day or two of injury. It is impossible to supply this information accurately without sound methods of tracking.
Pictures of your facility, equipment, and process flow patterns aid tracking and historical perspective. Our company periodically takes pictures of each piece of capital equipment and process flows as they change. With each injury, we link or attach a picture to a field within our spreadsheet. This picture illustrates the general layout of the area in which the employee was injured and also provides us with a view of the piece of equipment as it was at the time of injury.
Sometimes when looking at a picture after the fact we have had an aha! moment when we ask ourselves, "How did we ever miss that?"Pictures are not a necessity, but they have a way of putting both past and present injuries into perspective.
It's surprising how many companies still rely on their insurance provider or some other group to manage their internal tracking of safety information and documentation. This is not to say that the information cannot be shared or even stored externally. However, each site-specific safety officer should know the facility's employees and interact with them. I have always preferred an accurate in-house database free of personal opinion. I also prefer timely documentation. No safety officer can document an injury two weeks after the fact from memory. Collect, document, and track as the events unfold. This is imperative.
Finally, the purpose of a safety tracking program is not for the sake of the program; it is simply to reduce or eliminate injuries and increase profitability.
A future article will discuss the relationship between safety records and company profitability.