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The David J. Joseph Co. (DJJ), Cincinnati, sought to shift its safety mindset in 2016 when it formalized the prevention of potentially serious injuries and fatalities (P-SIFs), a process it started in 2015. These incidents could result in life-altering injuries or fatalities if circumstances were slightly different.

Terry McWhorter, DJJ’s director of corporate safety, says this process-oriented approach to safety focuses on the goal of prioritizing and preventing the more serious workplace injuries. It arose from a paradigm shift in incident prevention.

Focus on prevention

“Numerous studies, particularly the BST/Mercer study published in 2011, concluded that the long-standing approach focused on reducing the number of less-serious incidents to effectively reduce those incidents with more serious outcomes isn’t necessarily true,” McWhorter says.

He continues, “The precursors and causal factors that lead to the less-serious incidents are not the same as those that contribute to P-SIFs. This was evident in the study, and we have also seen the same when trending our incident experience within DJJ.”

Heinrich’s Triangle, which was introduced in the book Industrial Accident Prevention: A Scientific Approach, written by William Heinrich in 1931, claims that focusing on near-misses and first-aid incidents reduces fatalities and lost-time injuries. However, the approach has been criticized more recently by some safety professionals as oversimplifying the relationship between near-misses and serious incidents, while some also say it places too much blame on the worker.

“From a workplace safety perspective, we have to look beyond the traditional methodology as illustrated in Heinrich’s Triangle and prioritize SIF prevention,” McWhorter says.

Additionally, he says, just because a company has gone a certain time frame without a recordable incident doesn’t necessarily mean that unsafe acts and close calls did not occur.

Instead, SIF prevention looks at actual and potential outcomes and prioritizes focusing on addressing precursors that can result in serious injury or fatality.

To determine whether an incident qualifies as a P-SIF, McWhorter says DJJ looks at its actual outcome and compares it with the potential worst-case scenario.

“We then look at what kept that worst-case from happening,” he says. “What safety systems and controls were designed to be in place, and which ones failed? If all the controls failed and a small dose of luck, such as time or position, prevented a more serious result, this would obviously be a P-SIF. If one safety control remained in place and prevented the worst-case, then SIF potential is high. If more than one safety control were still in place, we try to avoid stringing multiple ‘what-ifs’ together.”

McWhorter says DJJ also considers whether a SIF was “possible” or “probable.” He offers an example: “If I am walking down a sidewalk, trip and fall to the ground, there is a possibility I could suffer a serious life-altering injury, but the probability would be very low. Conversely, if I were to fall from a working surface that is 10 feet high, the probability of it being a SIF is very high.”

Assessing critical risks

DJJ has identified 12 critical risk categories for SIF prevention, McWhorter says. Many of these risk categories apply to industries beyond scrap recycling, including working at heights, hazardous energy, machine guarding, falling/flying material, working around trucks and trailers and torching and hot work, he adds.

In the recycling industry, specifically, McWhorter says mobile equipment and pedestrian interactions represent a key critical risk area. “Tragically, pedestrians being struck by mobile equipment is the prominent cause of fatalities in our industry, and you can see the potential by just observing activity in a recycling facility,” he says. “We also have the additional challenge and responsibility to separate customers from mobile equipment activity and keep them protected while on-site.”

While P-SIFs are “reactive” because they are in response to an event, McWhorter adds, they can help reduce risks by thoroughly investigating the causes.

Accident investigation

McWhorter says investigations play an important role in identifying and addressing P-SIFs. While most accidents are attributed to employee behavior, he explains that “those behaviors are often the result of decisions that are influenced by equipment layout, the environment, management systems or other cultural factors.” For that reason, eliminating the hazard or implementing engineering controls where possible can reduce the chance of making the wrong decision, he adds.

Each of DJJ’s locations, which number more than 60, has trained incident investigation core teams with members from management and hourly teammates from different departments, which ensures a more thorough investigation because they bring varying perspectives, skill sets and knowledge to the task.

“[W]e also have a P-SIF review team, comprised of senior leaders from operations, safety, engineering and legal, that will review all findings, ask the appropriate questions and approve the investigation before distribution,” McWhorter says.

As a result of these investigations, DJJ has developed controls for the 12 P-SIF risk categories that the company has identified in its operations.

Creating institutional and industry change

Once a P-SIF investigation has been completed, DJJ creates a P-SIF Alert, which contains a description of the P-SIF, the findings of the investigation, corrective actions and supporting photos and even video, he says. “This alert is then distributed throughout the organization with specific follow-up actions,” McWhorter says.

“Most often, there are corrective actions that must be implemented in similar processes at other locations,” he adds. “We also assign this as an action item in our electronic EHS (environment, health and safety) management system, so we can track progress.”

“It is an iterative process,” Chris Bedell, DJJ senior vice president and general counsel, says. “It is not static.”

DJJ is interested in sharing the root causes and corrective actions it implements with the broader recycling industry, Bedell says. He also serves as co-chair of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) Safe Operations Committee. He says one of his main focuses in this role is educating the industry on what P-SIFs are and why they are so important.

Additionally, follow-up meetings at the location where the P-SIF occurred will verify whether the corrective actions are effective at mitigating the risk, McWhorter says. If changes are deemed necessary, that location will advise the overall organization as to what those changes consist of.

Since DJJ formalized its SIF prevention program in 2016, the company has been tracking its P-SIF rate. “We include this rate in our reports with our recordable, DART (days away, restricted or transferred) and lost-time rates, but highlight the P-SIF trend for focus,” McWhorter says. “Like many others, we have seen our incident rates decline over the years but need to recognize the precursors are different and avoid complacency.”

Bedell says SIF prevention is a key part of DJJ’s culture, which is founded on four core values: safety, respect, integrity and excellence. As part of Charlotte, North Carolina-based Nucor Corp., DJJ also has accepted the overall enterprise challenge to become the world’s safest steel recycling company, he says.

“We strongly believe there are so many benefits to being a safe organization,” Bedell says, citing improved team, community and customer relationships. “Safety excellence leads to business excellence.”

The author is editor of Recycling Today and can be contacted at dtoto@gie.net.