HealthComplianceJuly 29, 2020

SIF prevention: the common mistake to avoid

I recently read an article on SIF prevention. The article included a mistake that I want to share with you because it’s one that I have seen often.

I won’t include a link to the article because my goal is not to embarrass the author. Besides, I’m sure the author is very competent and probably the vast majority of readers did not even notice the mistake.

A quick reminder of definitions before continuing.

We know what a fatality is, while a serious injury is defined by a research paper from the Campbell Institute at the National Safety Council as “a permanent impairment or life-altering state, or an injury that if not immediately addressed will lead to death or permanent or long-term impairment.

A near miss with a “SIF potential” is one that has “SIF precursors”, i.e. factors that give a near miss a potential to cause a SIF.

Let’s get back to the mistake. According to the article that I read, one of the SIF precursors consists of the absence of critical controls.

Now let’s look at the description of a SIF precursor offered by the Campbell Institute paper, word for word (I underlined the important part):

“A high-risk situation in which control measures are absent, ineffective or not complied with, and would potentially result in a fatality or serious injury if allowed to continue.”

Do you notice the difference?

A SIF precursor does not consist of only an absence of controls.

There can be control measures in place, but if they’re not working or not being followed, then there can also be a SIF precursor.

It’s a nuance that’s easy to miss, and it can make a big difference in your SIF prevention efforts.

It’s not enough to simply go through a checkbox exercise and determine if there are controls in place for high-risk situations. You should also regularly evaluate the effectiveness of controls, through inspections or real-time monitoring.

Don’t assume that your SIF prevention efforts are going well just because you have controls in place.

Key Questions

If a near miss occurs, and it is one with SIF potential because of the presence of SIF precursors, ask yourself these key questions:

  • If no controls were in place:
    • Were controls absent because hazards were not known? If so, why were hazards not known? Was a hazard assessment ever performed?
    • If hazards were known, why wasn’t a risk assessment performed?
    • If a risk assessment was performed, why weren’t controls implemented?
  • If controls were ineffective:
    • Was the risk assessment properly performed?
    • Was the most effective control implemented or was a lesser effective control selected instead (i.e. a control located towards the bottom of the hierarchy of controls as opposed to a more effective one located towards the top)?
    • If the right control was selected, was its implementation executed well? If not, why?
  • If controls were not followed:
    • Why wasn’t an engineering control implemented as opposed to an administrative control or PPE?
    • Was enough training provided to make sure that workers follow proper work practices or instructions?
    • Is there potentially something wrong with your safety culture if training was provided and employees were still failing to follow controls?

In conclusion, having controls in place is not enough to have a successful SIF prevention program. You should also regularly evaluate the effectiveness of controls. If SIF precursors are identified, ask yourself the key questions above that may help you uncover potential weaknesses in your safety and health program.

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Content Thought Leader - Wolters Kluwer Enablon

Jean-Grégoire Manoukian is Content Thought Leader at Wolters Kluwer Enablon. He’s responsible for thought leadership, content creation, and the management of the Enablon Blog and social media activities. Jean-Grégoire started at Enablon in 2014 as Content Marketing Manager, and has more than 20 years of experience, including many years as a product manager for chemical management and product stewardship solutions. He also worked as a product marketing manager.

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