The International Association of Oil and Gas Producers has released a safety alert to its members concerning a dropped object injury on a U.S. offshore rig. A link pin weighing one-and-a-third pounds fell about 40 feet. It had enough velocity to bounce up and hit a worker in the jaw.
It is one more reminder that in the offshore industry, or for that matter any industry where work is done overhead, dropped objects are a real hazard that needs to be managed carefully. Dropped objects also fall into that category of safety hazards where near-misses are clear predictors of serious or fatal injuries.
The safety profession is sort of reconsidering the relationship between near misses or minor injuries and serious injuries. For many years, the theory of accident prevention was driven by what is known as the Heinrich pyramid, based on H.R. Heinrich’s observations in the 1930’s that, statistically, for every 300 near-misses industry experiences, there are 29 minor injuries and one fatality. Given that the 1930’s were sort of the dawning ages of safety management, that was a pretty bold concept.
But it doesn’t hold up well today. As safety programs have become more sophisticated, minor injury rates have fallen, but there hasn’t been an equivalent drop in fatalities. The simple truth is that minor and major injuries frequently have different causes and need to be addressed differently. In fact one Canadian study found that the lost-time claim rate fell by 37.3 percent from 2006 to 2010, while during the same time fatalities rose by nine percent. Some even argue that too much of a focus on minor injury prevention can blind a company to the big stuff, i.e. the Macondo disaster.
But that is not the case with injuries from dropped objects. A falling object generates tremendous force and speed. The falling pin in the safety alert took about one-and-a-half seconds to hit the ground; that is not a lot of time to see it, react and move out of the way. In most cases the object hits the ground harmlessly, but if some unlucky soul happens to be under the object, he is likely to die. The two factors are where the object falls and where the worker is standing. In other words, it is a throw of the dice.
Many in the oil and gas industry have taken this to heart and have realized that near misses are a clear indicator of future serious injury or fatalities. Attack the near miss potential and you are managing the fatality risk. Through an organization named DROPS, industry has developed a number of programs to address the hazard. One of the most interesting is a calculator that shows the potential harm of each drop. Enter the weight and the distance an object falls and it will tell you whether the potential injury is likely to result in:
- First Aid (Slight Injury),
- Medical Treatment Case (Minor Injury),
- a Lost Time Injury (Major Injury) or
- a Fatality.
What does this do for safety managers? Imagine a meeting with the CEO where you say, “we had 10 near misses and no injuries last year.” Now, imagine that you use the calculator to show the potential outcome of 10 dropped object incidents and you say, “We were just inches away from five fatalities, four major injuries and three minor injuries. ”
That’s how you get the boss’s attention.