The Key to SIF Prevention: Evaluating the Effectiveness of Controls

Jean-Grégoire Manoukian
Jean-Grégoire Manoukian
February 20, 2024
Sponsored by: Wolters Kluwer

The latest statistics for fatal work injuries in the United States reveal an alarming trend that sees many organizations moving in the wrong direction.

According to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 5,486 fatal work injuries in the U.S. in 2022. That’s a 5.7% increase compared to 2021, and the highest number since 2007. It’s also the second year in a row that fatal work injuries have increased. There were 5,190 work-related fatalities in 2021 and 4,764 in 2020.

Fatal work injury rates follow a similar trend with 3.7 fatalities per 100,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers in 2022. The rate was 3.6 in 2021 and 3.5 in 2020.

Fatality statistics paint only part of the overall picture for Serious Injuries and Fatalities (SIFs), but the conclusion is undeniable: The number of SIFs remains too high and there must be greater urgency given to prioritizing SIF prevention efforts.

A robust program is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of controls for SIF prevention.

SIF, pSIF, and SIF Precursors
A SIF (Serious Injury and Fatality) and a pSIF (Potential Serious Injury and Fatality) are akin to the difference between an accident and a near miss. A pSIF is a situation that could have resulted in a serious injury or fatality. But what criteria would make a near miss a pSIF, i.e., a near miss with the potential to cause a SIF, as opposed to a near miss without the potential to cause a SIF?

The answer to the question lies in “SIF precursors.” A Campbell Institute white paper defines a SIF precursor as “a high-risk situation where controls are broken, absent or not complied with.” Another definition describes it as an event, condition, or factor that precedes an incident and has the potential to lead to a serious injury or fatality. A SIF precursor can be a high-risk situation where hazards are present and not controlled or a high-risk situation where controls are present.

Preventing SIFs and pSIFs requires both identifying and acting upon SIF precursors.

Implementing Controls is Not Enough
Many organizations perform a hazard assessment, or root cause analysis following an incident, and identify and implement proper controls or barriers. They often consider their work done after that. But the implementation of controls must not be seen as the final step.

Like hazards and risks, the state of controls can also change. They can degrade and weaken over time. Factors that may lead to failed controls include:
  • Employee turnover
  • Changes to machinery or equipment
  • Changes in the design or layout of a plant
  • Changes to processes or operating procedures
  • Changes to the type of chemicals used in the manufacturing process

Change can introduce new hazards or negatively impact a risk assessment by increasing the likelihood of an adverse event occurring.

How to Monitor and Evaluate Controls
Existing controls may not be adequate for new hazards or different risk levels. So, the implementation of controls is only the beginning. It’s also necessary to continuously monitor the health and effectiveness of controls and barriers in four ways:
  • First, as part of an investigation and root cause analysis after an incident, you need to identify any failed controls or barriers, if applicable. This represents a reactive approach.
  • Second, as part of your management of change (MOC) process, you must identify potential controls impacted by a change request, and whether they may be less effective. This is also a reactive approach.
  • Third, conduct regularly scheduled inspections to verify and evaluate the effectiveness of controls and barriers. This represents a proactive approach.
  • Fourth, integrate plant information and other data from internal and external IT systems, such as Maintenance Management Systems, to gain near real-time visibility over the status of controls and barriers. This represents both a proactive and dynamic approach.
Strengthen Controls
Evaluating the effectiveness of controls and identifying weak or failed controls will be of no value if action is not taken.

As part of your SIF prevention program, address SIF precursors by strengthening existing controls or replacing them with those that are more effective. Remember to replace existing controls based on the hierarchy of controls model (e.g., replacing PPE or administrative controls with engineering controls).

Going forward, it’s important to monitor and evaluate controls and barriers on an on-going basis as part of your SIF prevention efforts.

Finally, consider the use of an integrated EHS and Operational Risk Management platform that offers capabilities for incident management, management of change, audits, inspections, barrier management, risk assessments, action plans, etc. An integrated platform connects different EHS and risk domains, delivers cost and time savings, and can significantly improve your SIF prevention efforts.


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About the Author

Jean-Grégoire Manoukian
Jean-Grégoire Manoukian
Wolters Kluwer Enablon
Jean-Grégoire Manoukian serves as content thought leader for Wolters Kluwer Enablon, a leading provider of integrated software solutions that helps organizations protect worker safety, enhance sustainability, manage risks, stay compliant and identify opportunities to elevate EHS, operational risk management, and ESG performance.

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