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Jun 14, 2016

Editor’s note: It would be a mistake to believe accidents and work-related illnesses are mostly a blue-collar concern. Data shows that workers in hospitals and those who work in museums and historical sites suffer more injuries than do those in mining, for example.

Workforce safety is a top concern across a wide range of industries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries reported in 2014. Whether you work in a factory or an office, occupational hazards exist across all sectors of the economy — making the prevention of safety incidents a key strategic imperative for a diverse array of organizations.

Even complying to the strictest safety standards doesn’t guarantee that your workers won’t suffer from a workplace-related injury. Human beings are unpredictable and their behavior can change in an instant, which is why human error is a frequent explanation for workforce injuries. As many as 90% of industrial accident reports indicate a failure on the part of the injured person or a co-worker.

However, it’s important to not be quick to blame human error as the sole culprit. There can be many underlying causes for workplace accidents, such as systemic failures, poor management, and lack of training. Without knowing the correct drivers of incidents, it can be impossible to put the correct prevention programs in place. Using a data-driven approach enables HR and safety leaders to accurately determine what trends are causing incidents and what programs should be implemented to reduce these numbers.

Find the root causes of incidents with data

While many organizations regularly produce reports on safety, they are unable to easily tie this data back to the workforce metrics and attributes that impact the frequency and likelihood of safety incidents. This lack of information can result in the use of “gut feel” to make calls on which safety measures need to be put in place — not a comforting thought when worker well-being is at stake.

And now that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires 750,000 employers to submit detailed annual reports of workplace injuries and illnesses for online publication, organizations are under even more pressure to make accurate calls in order to successfully reduce safety incidents.

BLS injury and illness report 2010-2014For prevention programs to be effective, they need to be based on a complete view of the workforce factors at the root of the incidents themselves. An effective HR analytics team can gather the right actionable insights from your historical data to create more effective prevention plans, build better-targeted training programs, and improve your approach to hiring so you can recruit individuals less likely to have safety incidences in the future.

Here are three areas where an analytical mindset can help you design the best safety solution for your organization:

1. Understand your safety issues

Before you start brainstorming solutions, it’s important to determine what safety looks like at your organization. As you comb through your historical data, aim to answer questions such as:

  • Is our lost time severity rate increasing or decreasing, and at what rate?
  • How do the number of injuries compare between multiple sites, year over year?
  • What locations have the lowest and highest reported frequency of injuries?

This information will not only reveal trends in safety incidents, but help you understand what impact these are having on your workforce and business outcomes.

2. See what’s driving safety incidents

Workplace injuries don’t happen in isolation so your next step is to uncover possible causes. Examine the data for the top employee attributes linked with higher and lower frequency and severity of safety incidents — including those for near misses and lost time. Are more accidents happening with new staff? This could indicate lack of experience, and the need for more safety training during onboarding. Conversely, are you seeing that tenured workers have more workplace injuries? This could be a sign that supervisors need to get more involved on the floor or work site.

3. Identify which employee groups have the highest risk

To create the best injury prevention program, it’s important to focus your efforts on where it is most needed first. Compare employees by role, location, area in organization, and other groups to see which are at highest risk for safety incidents, so that you can more effectively target your safety programs. Have you noticed that electrical engineers have the highest incidences of near misses and time lost due to injury? This tells you that you need to design a program that speaks to their specific job role and the risks they encounter on a daily basis.

Building a culture of safety

Safety leaders must have a deep understanding of what workers’ jobs entail in order to determine which safety measures and programs are actually necessary to reduce incidences. Figuring out the right actions to take can be a Herculean task and getting it wrong can have severe consequences that go beyond lost productivity and costs.

By using the data to guide efforts — and cloud-based applied big data technology to make this easier and quicker to analyze — leadership can be more confident that the recommendations you’re making are accurate and designed to produce the best outcomes possible.

Remember that the goal isn’t just to make people safer with measures such as more guardrails and better equipment, but to encourage employees to work safely whenever they are on the job.

This post originally appeared on the Visier Workforce Intelligence Blog.