Safety: More than numbers

Fermilab Director Pier Oddone

With the close of the fiscal year approaching, it is important for us to understand any significant trends in our safety performance. Looking at the numbers is the only way to discern trends. Whenever we do that, however, we run the risk of taking our attention off of what is really important: our people and the customs that sustain a strong safety culture.

The first important statistic is that we are reporting well, from the minor incidents requiring only first aid to the more serious injuries requiring days away from work or work restrictions (DART cases). The reporting of all injuries is an important part of our culture as it is easier to see overall trends and developing problems before more serious safety issues arise.

Our overall performance in FY2011 has been very good. To understand how we are doing, we compare this year’s numbers to the average of the previous four years. These numbers include employees, contractors and users. We have had five DART cases for the year, which is better than the average of eight DART cases over the previous four years. However, this is within statistical fluctuations. Of these five cases, three were due to slipping on ice, including the most serious accident that required surgery and more than two months away from work. To prevent serious injuries like this one, it is within our collective power to pay special attention during the many months of inclement weather. Let’s not wait for global warming to improve this statistic!

For FY2011, we have had 20 reportable cases (TRC), including the five DART cases. The TRC rate includes injuries that did not involve work restrictions but required more than first aid, such as prescription drugs or sutures to close cuts. This rate is again below the average of the last four years (22) but not by much. Of the 15 recordable cases that were not DART cases, 10 were lacerations and simple fractures, emphasizing the need for protective equipment, awareness of dangers in all manual activities and proper planning before working, no matter how simple a task seems.

For FY2011, we had 66 cases requiring only first aid. From the statistics above you could almost predict what the largest categories of first aid would be: slips, trips and falls (26) and minor lacerations, scratches and abrasions (20). The other significant category of first aid was stings(14), which seldom become more serious.

I write about these numbers because they give us a very clear idea of where each of us needs to improve. We pay a lot of attention to very dangerous activities and generally protect ourselves well from them. What causes most of our injuries are distractions leading to slips and falls or cuts and abrasions on manual activities. We can all work to improve in these areas – at work and at home.