A common safety leader’s complaint deals with individuals who fudge the numbers – those who do not report all the injuries and incidents that occur, and those who fudge the severity and do not take incidents as recordable. Why would anyone do this? In some cases, it deals with contractors who want to be a part of a bidding process which requires low injury rates to enter the bidder pool. Inaccurate reporting is also tied to performance measures based on injury rates. Additionally, many countries do not have legal requirements for reporting. Altogether, there are probably a dozen or more other reasons for under reporting injuries.
My first experience with inaccurately reported safety incidents was when I was a manufacturing engineer in a metals facility that had won the corporate president’s safety award for lowest injury rate in their division. After a major, facility-wide celebration for 1,000+ employees, it was discovered that the safety manager had purposefully falsified the data. At our next staff meeting, the safety manager was unexpectedly told by the facility manager to stand up and describe how his unethical actions impacted everyone in the organization. In more recent years, I have run on to other organizations which discovered, months later, that one of their facilities had an unreported fatality. Or, that after a particularly bad year of many injuries, a facility went ‘event free’ only to have a corporate audit team determine the real truth.
It is fairly common for organizations worldwide to place a major focus on downstream indicators, the things we don’t want to occur. This kind of pressure can lead to one or more people fudging the numbers, and others complaining about inaccurate reporting stemming from a weak safety system/culture. You can understand why more organizations are trying to move to upstream indicators, which are measures of accountability performance that actually reduce injuries. And yet, injury rates always seem to be a part of the performance equation and thus the pressure to adjust injury reality.
I have also experienced organizations’ efforts to combat falsely reported injury rates. One group made the OSHA log their worldwide standard and ethics document. This kind of document comes with a ‘one strike and you’re out’ policy if you are found responsible for falsifying the data. Another company has changed their whole safety performance system so that only senior vice presidential personnel have a RIF (Recordable Injury Frequency) metric. All other levels are measured by the relentless pursuit of safety accountabilities in order to eliminate the downstream injuries.
These approaches do not focus on accepting excuses or trying to place the blame on others. The real focus for getting to a zero-incident safety culture is on what are you doing. Achieving a zero-incident safety culture is serious, hard work and has no room for excuses, fudging the numbers, complaining about others, or any other unethical shenanigans that remove an active focus on keeping our employees from being injured on or off the job.