IGAP researcher Dr Sharron O’Neill argues that ‘Lost Time Injury Frequency Rates’ (LTIFRs) – traditionally the ‘gold standard’ in workplace safety reporting – can mask worrying trends in the severity and incidence of occupational injuries. Her analysis of injury data was recently reported in the cover article of the March 2013 issue of Inside Safety – ‘Losing Faith in Lost Time Injuries’ – by journalist Richard Collins .
1. LTIFR only captures a subset of work-related injuries. By definition, lost time injuries are work-related injuries that prevent a worker from performing their usual work duties for at least one day. Hence, even serious injuries such as permanent loss of hearing are excluded where they involve no loss of work time.
2. Counting injuries does not measure safety risk – dangers at work and the possible consequences – or the effectiveness of hazard identification and management.
3. Research demonstrates that LTIFR performance can fall even when the incidence of severe injuries is rising. This explains how companies can experience a blowout in workers compensation costs despite workplace injury rates appearing to decline.
Given these limitations, Dr O’Neill raised concerns about the way the LTIFRs are being used as a proxy for anything from workplace safety to workplace culture and performance, and then used to inform a vast array of organisational decisions from workplace health and safety (WHS) strategy and policy to resource allocation and executive remuneration. She suggests that the divergent uses of LTIFRs is: “…part of the reason behind claims that [LTIFR] is so manipulated and produces dysfunctional outcomes – it’s like a square peg being forced into too many round holes.”
Instead, Dr O’Neill identifies a number of alternate measures that may be preferable in particular circumstances and urges decision-makers to look to those measures that best suit the context. For instance, lost time measures may be suitable for capturing the financial and productivity costs of workplace injuries. However, the effectiveness of an organisation’s safety policy and systems is better captured with metrics that reflect the control of latent risks and / or quantify both the severity and incidence of workplace injuries.
The importance of evaluating work health and safety in a valid and reliable way is underscored by both the human and economic consequences of poor safety management. Recent Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) statistics show 640,700 Australians sustained workplace injuries and illnesses in the 12 months preceding the (2009-10) survey, which equates to about 53 in every 1,000 people in work. Furthermore, Safe Work Australia estimates suggest workplace injury and illness is costing the Australian economy $60.6 billion per year, or approximately 4.8% of GDP.
The need to improve both the measurement and governance of WHS in Australia is a key driver for the WHS performance and governance research being conducted by the IGAP research centre. IGAP is currently working with the Safety Institute of Australia and the Institute of Chartered Accountants, Australia to develop a WHS reporting guide that can help organisations measure, report, interpret and improve their safety performance. In a separate study, IGAP is bringing together CPA Australia, Safe Work Australia and the Safety Institute of Australia to undertake a detailed examination of the role of accounting in WHS governance. Please refer to the IGAP Projects website or contact Dr O’Neill for further details.