Reduce Serious Injury and Fatality (SIF) Potential

Keep Your Eye on the Prize: Reduce Serious Injury and Fatality (SIF) Potential

By Josh Williams, Ph.D.

Safety leadership can be tricky. Conscientious leaders regularly review safety incidents but often fail to distinguish between more minor incidents and those that can kill you. The primary focus is often “on the numbers,” especially when bonuses are tied to recordable rates. This can result in smaller incidents (tick bites) being blown out of proportion and very serious incidents (falling from heights) being treated like any other incident.

Here are a few things to consider. There is natural variation in incident occurrence. For instance, you may be managing safety poorly but still have reasonable outcome numbers for a given period of time. This leads to a false sense of security. Conversely, you may be doing most everything right for safety but still have some recordables occur. Recently, an EHS person lamented that an office employee sprained her ankle (recordable!) in the parking lot walking into work. Other smaller incidents occurred during this timeframe (after many months with no issues), and executives started to take notice. Pressure to reverse this trend began cascading down the organization. The desire to prevent future incidents is commendable, but problems arise when there are overreactions to short-term TRIR increases, including:

  1. Front-line leaders are scared to lose their jobs if there’s another minor injury.
  2. Employees are more likely to be blamed when incidents occur.
  3. Incident reporting goes underground, and people stop reporting them. Lessons learned for future prevention are no longer available.

Beyond Metrics: Prioritizing Serious Injury and Fatality (SIF) Potential

On top of that, research shows that there’s a negative correlation between incident rates and fatalities. Total recordable rates don’t predict an organization’s risk for catastrophic events. In one study of numerous construction companies, fatality rates were higher for organizations that had lower overall incident rates.1 In other words, incidents with the potential for serious injury and fatality are fundamentally different than typical injuries (strains/sprains). Traditional safety measures (LTI) measure how well an organization is managing minor hazards but reveals little about how well they handle major hazards.

Make no mistake. Reviewing all incidents with an eye on future prevention is critical. And TRIR and LTI rates do matter. However, fixating on these injury statistics without a broader focus on SIF potential is counterproductive and dangerous. Basically, the error precursors influencing typical injuries are often different than those contributing to serious injuries and fatalities.2

So, what can be done?

Here are a few ideas to beef up your SIF potential reduction efforts.

  • Spend more time focusing on catastrophic potential with incidents, even when the incidents are minor.
  • Rate close calls on a scale of 1 (low pSIF) to 10 (high pSIF). Conduct more detailed analyses for any scores at 8 or above. Involve field employees in the analysis.
  • Add a “SIF potential” notation for observation programs. Any SIF potential items should have detailed comments and should trigger a (no-blame) deep dive.
  • Do detailed reviews of tailboards and JHAs to ensure high quality hazard identification and mitigation efforts. Provide coaching to make sure that tailgates are interactive and effective.
  • Ensure safety training focuses on SIF potential and reduction.
  • Make sure the hierarchy of controls are regularly used. Eliminate serious hazards at the source without relying on PPE and other more indirect measures.  
  • Conduct learning teams for employees to discuss and detail pSIF potential in their work areas.
  • Streamline incident reports for executives. Provide them with more detailed information on pSIF and SIF events instead of just trends in recordable rates over time.

So, keep your eye on the prize with injury numbers but don’t get seduced into injury number obsession. Focus on reducing SIF potential to save lives!

At Propulo, we work with leaders to more intelligently manage leading and lagging safety metrics with a focus on SIF prevention.     


  1. Saloniemi, A. and Oksanen, H. (1998) Accidents and Fatal Accidents—Some Paradoxes. Safety Science, 29, 59-66.
  2. National Safety Council (2018). Serious Injury and Fatality Prevention: Perspectives and Practices.

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