(Hint: Not doing so could cost a fortune)

Let’s be honest: Freak accidents will always happen.

And no matter how thorough you are in your assessment of risks and workplace procedures, it’s the accidents that seem to come out of nowhere that can have the biggest impact – both on the wellbeing of your workforce and the ramifications for your organisation.

So how do you identify the unknown – let alone assess it? It starts with breaking with tradition and looking beyond likely scenarios. We’re not saying that you shouldn’t worry about the typical incidents that tend to happen at your workplace; but rather, look outside the processes and procedures you do have control of and ask ‘What if?’.

In the paradigm below, there are four levels of risk awareness that we can operate within. Whilst many organisations are happy to stay within the Known Knowns quadrant, we believe that everyone should become comfortable with assessing and planning for the Unknown Knowns, Known Unknowns and the Unknown Unknowns.

Fatality statistics

Work-related fatalities have fallen dramatically in Australia since 2007, however they’ve been on the rise again since 2018.

In a Work-related injury report for fatalities, injury and disease by Safe Work Australia, there were 194 workplace fatalities in 2021 – with vehicle collisions being by far the biggest killer (accounting for 41% of fatal accidents). This was followed by being hit by moving objects (13%), falls from a height (11%), and being hit by falling objects (9%): The sort of accidents that can be guarded against but are not always avoidable – should unmanageable external factors come together unexpectedly.

And it seems that no occupation or industry is exempt – however the heavy industries are affected to a greater degree:

  • Machinery operators and drivers accounted for 8.4 fatalities per 100,000 workers
  • Labourers accounted for 3.5 fatalities per 100,000 workers
  • Management accounted for 2.2 fatalities per 100,000 workers
  • Agriculture, forestry and fishing was the most affected industry, with 13.1 fatalities per 100,000 workers
  • Transport, postal and warehousing followed with 7.8 fatalities per 100,000 workers
  • The construction industry had 3.1 fatalities per 100,000 workers

Injury and disease statistics

In the same Safe Work Australia report, the rate of serious claims for injury and disease also showed an upward trend from 2007 onwards. In total, there were 120,355 serious claims in Australia during the 2019-2020 financial year.

Also it’s worth noting that, apart from physical injuries, mental health conditions also garnered a significant amount of claims – as illustrated in the graph below.

The cost of not knowing

During the 2019-2020 financial year the median cost for serious injury claims was $13,500 per claim. Additionally, injured workers required around 6.6 weeks off work per serious claim. For organisations, that can add up to a lot of money – considering compensation paid (around $11,900 for women and $14,500 for men in total), replacement staff, possible reductions in productivity, educational and compliance costs, reputational costs, and time spent on paperwork.

Even worse, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that many seriously injured team members will leave their workplace. During the 2017-2018 financial year, this was as high as 30%.

‘We don’t know what we don’t know’
But we
can form educated assumptions

The crux of it all comes down to this: Can you really afford to not plan for unforeseen circumstances?

As with all advanced approaches to safety, it starts with truly understanding what normal work looks like throughout your entire operation. This means going out into the field and observing teams with an open mind and asking lots of non-judgmental questions.

Remember, many workers fear retribution from employers if they lift the lid on unsafe practices. So for your own understanding of the hazards that may lurk in the unknown, it’s in your best interest to ensure your workers are comfortable in sharing their thoughts and experiences.

Consider issues like how they cope with equipment failure? Is the equipment suitable for their scope of work? Is there undocumented scope creep with their roles? Are they adapting the work to get jobs done?

It’s only when we discover how your teams work that we can fully understand the dynamics of their environments – and how unsuspecting occurrences can make some jobs positively dangerous.

What could possibly go wrong? 

We suggest you think big picture here and consider contingencies to address any left-of-field situations that come to mind, such as:

World events

  • Supply chain disruptions
  • Pandemics
  • Personnel shortages
  • Conflicts
  • Energy fluctuations
  • Cyber attacks (which may hamper communications, GPS networks and other essential information)

Local events

  • Geological issues – such as unstable ground, burst mains etc
  • Weather – including intense heat/cold (resulting in heat stroke or hyperthermia) strong winds gusts, hail, lightning strike and sudden weather changes
  • Environmental – operations during high fire season, draught, or excessive flooding
  • Community – considering traffic risks, pedestrians, demonstrations
  • Biological problems – like insects, dangerous animals, and invasive plants
  • Allergy and asthma triggers
  • Live wires
  • Explosions – either onsite or nearby
  • Bomb threats
  • Asbestos, chemicals and other on-site carcinogens
  • Faulty machinery/tools
  • Helping others in difficulty

Work related

  • Resource constraints
  • Local rationalisation
  • Goal conflicts
  • System weaknesses
  • Equipment design & availability
  • Production pressures
  • Demographics of workforce
  • Literacy of workforce
  • Normal variability
  • Interactions & Flows

Mitigating the OMG factor

As mentioned, you can’t necessarily prevent a freak accident but you can reduce the likelihood and minimise injury and avoid fatalities. By having a response plan in place for any unusual scenario you may think of, you’ll be well positioned to handle the fallout.

Depending on all variables, you may wish to consider:

  • Emergency procedures:
  • – Responses to specific emergencies
  • – Evacuation procedures
  • – Notification of emergency services
  • – On the spot medical treatment and assistance (For example, can you send your team to first aid workshops?)
  • – Communication between the emergency response team/leader and workforce
  • Regular testing of emergency procedures
  • Information packs and training for key personnel and possibly the wider workforce
  • Other considerations:
  • – The size and location of your workplace. Is it remote? Where are the nearest health services? What local resources are available?
  • – The number of workers involved and contingencies to keep everyone safe
  • – Collection of contact details for key emergency responders on the team (such as fire wardens)
  • – Details of local emergency services (including police, poison information centre, fire brigade, SES etc)
  • – Methods of alerting people at the workplace (such as alarms or intercoms)
  • – Evacuation procedures (including assistance for workers with disability)
  • – Maps of workplace evacuation plans, listing fire extinguishers, PPE, exits and meeting points
  • – Post-incident follow-up (such as trauma counseling, notifying regulators etc.)

Above all, it’s important to look at organisational bias when it comes to assessing risk and focus on changing that culture in line with a Safety II approach. Often, this can be easier said than done, which is why Investigations Differently offers a range of services to get both the leadership team and workforce on board – from Risk Assessment Training courses and Risk Management Maturity Assessments, to Coaching and Mentoring of key personnel and Professional Facilitation.

Or we could simply come in and conduct an independent risk audit and facilitate your entire risk management program for you.

You only need to get in touch for a chat.