Looking Back to the Future

Effective loss history analysis is the key to preventing future accidents.

The old saying goes that if you want to predict the future then you need to study the past. This saying rings true for waste firms when it comes to safety. A waste company wishing to prevent future vehicle accidents and worker injuries should analyze its history of those events and use that information to develop a targeted safety plan.

This article will address the five steps in this process:

  • Enter important details about all previous vehicle accidents and worker injuries into a central database.

  • Perform a “loss frequency analysis.”

  • Perform a “loss severity analysis.”

  • Identify root causes of specific accident or injury types.

  • Develop solutions aimed at preventing these specific accident or injury types.

Gathering Information

Whenever a vehicle accident occurs or a worker is injured, there usually follows an investigation into the circumstances that led to the event. The results of this investigation are used to provide information to claims adjusters, to determine preventability and, in some cases, to determine whether disciplinary action is necessary. All too frequently, however, the findings are simply filed away in a folder and do not become part of any broader analysis.

To see the “big picture,” a waste firm needs to establish a central database that contains information from all vehicle accidents and worker injuries. An accident register should be developed to record important details from each vehicular accident, while an injury register should track the details of each worker injury.

A small firm with few losses may be able to get by with pen and paper registers. However, most organizations will want to set up their registers in a spreadsheet program such as Excel. This will greatly simplify analyzing larger datasets through the use of sort and filter functions and pivot tables.

A typical vehicle accident register will include columns identifying data such as the date and time of the incident, the location, the driver's tenure with the firm, the type of route and vehicle, the truck's movement at the time of the accident (backing, passing, turning, etc.), the kind of road on which the accident happened (city street, residential, highway), damage amount in dollars caused by the accident, etc.

The typical register used to gather information about worker injuries will include columns for similar information: date and time of day of the injury, day of the week, worker's tenure with the firm and job duty, injury type, the location of the worker at the time of the incident, task being performed at time of injury (lifting, sorting, climbing), the cost of the injury in dollars, etc.

Loss Frequency Analysis

The main goal of loss frequency analysis is to determine what types of accidents and injuries are occurring most frequently. With the vehicle accident register, this means sorting the losses by accident type or type of movement at the time of the accident. The injury register should be sorted by injury type or task being performed at the time of the injury. Frequently, a waste firm will find that hitting fixed objects while backing and back injuries while lifting are the leading causes for vehicle accidents and worker injuries, respectively.

Loss frequency analysis also can be useful in determining other commonalities in a group of losses besides accident or injury type. If a specific employee's name appears frequently in the accident or injury registers, then disciplinary action or retraining may be necessary for that individual. An analysis of the registers may show that vehicle accidents are more common for a certain type of vehicle or on a particular type of route. The injury register may show that particular job functions or locations in a firm's facility are incurring the most injuries.

Loss Severity Analysis

The goal of loss severity analysis is to identify specific types of vehicle accidents or injuries that tend to be the most costly. The vehicle accident register can be sorted by cost of damages, number of injuries, or number of fatalities to identify what types of vehicle accidents tend to have the greatest severity. Look at injury types with the highest number of lost days, fatalities and highest dollar amounts. Frequently, a waste firm will find that vehicle fires and collection workers being run over by passing vehicles are losses that do not occur with great frequency, but tend to be severe when they do happen.

Identifying Root Causes

Once a waste firm has identified the types of vehicle accidents and worker injuries that occur most frequently or have the greatest severity, a further study of those types should take place. The goal is to find the underlying cause or causes. Filter the accident or injury register to look only at one specific accident or injury type. Identify commonalities from the other columns. It should be noted that the register may not contain enough information to do a complete root cause analysis. Looking at the original incident files and conducting further interviews with employees may be necessary to identify all of the underlying causes for a specific accident or injury type.

The search for commonalities should allow the waste firm to isolate the root causes. As an example, a waste firm's frequency analysis showed that backing accidents are the most common type of accident. Subsequent analysis showed that most of these backing accidents involved hitting fixed objects or parked vehicles that should have been plainly visible to the driver before the driver started backing. Furthermore, most of the backing accidents occurred with rear-load trucks that did not have backing cameras. Finally, the analysis showed that almost half of the accidents were on residential routes that had at least one helper on the truck, but that the helper was not spotting at the time of the backing accident. The identified root causes: inadequate scanning for backing hazards by the driver upon arrival at the collection location (before backing), inability to see what is directly behind the truck while backing (i.e., no backing camera), and failure to use a spotter when one was available.

Developing Loss Prevention Solutions

Once a waste firm has identified what types of losses are occurring and the root causes of those accidents and injuries, they can formulate strategies to prevent reoccurrence. Prevention strategies may include safety training or education programs, vehicle modifications, additional PPE, changes or additions to company policies, and increased supervisor attention. Frequently, a combination of efforts targeting a specific loss type will have the greatest impact.

Returning to the waste firm with the backing accident problem, several loss prevention strategies can be developed based on the root causes identified. The firm should conduct additional training for drivers, emphasizing scanning for backing hazards when the drivers first arrive at the location, as the analysis shows that the drivers are backing into fixed object that should be clearly visible before backing begins. The firm should consider installing backing cameras on its rear-load trucks, as drivers are not getting the full picture when backing. The company also should initiate a policy requiring the use of spotters on collection trucks where a second person is present. Disciplinary action should be stipulated for failing to obey this policy. Finally, the firm should require route supervisors to verify that company policies regarding backing are being followed.

The loss analysis process can be an effective way to reduce vehicle accidents and worker injuries. A firm that can successfully identify why losses are occurring has the upper hand in preventing similar losses in the future. Those that fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.

Bruce Hooker works for Mattei Insurance Services, Inc. based in Sacramento, Calif.

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