Problem Statement: About 10 years ago, Dr. Krause and his colleagues began to receive phone calls from clients who had been experiencing very low recordable injury rates over long periods of time, who had been blindsided by a serious injury or fatality, or both. Dr. Krause observed that these were not isolated cases, they were part of a national trend in which recordable and lost time injuries were declining steadily year-to-year, while serious injuries and fatalities appeared to be level or in some cases increasing.

The Innovation Process: Dr. Krause and his colleagues at BST and ORCHSE (then Mercer ORC) met with a group of 7 global companies to see if they could understand the problem and develop a strategy to address it.

Pooling their existing safety data, the study group participants discovered that their recordable and lost time injuries could easily be divided into two categories: those with high potential to be serious and those with low potential. In one case, for example, a worker positioned on top of a railcar slipped, caught himself, and strained his back. In a separate case, a worker slipped in the parking lot and strained his back. Both events had the same actual outcome but radically different potentials for serious injury. The study group found that about 20% of their recordable injuries had the potential for serious injury or fatality.

Further, the study group discovered that the underlying causes and correlations for more serious injuries were different from those that were less serious. Serious injuries and fatalities were most frequently associated with weaknesses in basic safety systems while less serious injuries resulted from other factors.

Immediate Results for Study Group Participants: The seven study group participants identified four activities they planned to do immediately to help their organizations prevent serious and fatal injuries. First, they began to educate their own organizations on the issue, their discoveries, and the emerging paradigm. Second, they began measuring the potentiality of serious and fatal injuries and sharing the data with their organizations. Third, they developed programs to identify and mitigate their specific precursors. And fourth, began to incorporate the findings into existing safety systems.

Long-Term Results for Industry: This collaborative study group generated new insights for the prevention of serious injuries and fatalities with huge implications for industry. Contrary to Heinrich’s model, this group of thought leaders demonstrated that decreasing injuries at the bottom of the triangle may or may not lead to fewer fatalities and serious injuries at the top of the triangle. The idea that protecting workers from serious injuries and fatalities requires a prevention strategy that focuses on the potential of injuries to become serious or fatal remains a central idea in leading edge safety management today.