Utility sector at highest risk of serious injuries and fatalities, new report finds


A research study recently completed by DEKRA Organizational Safety & Reliability, a consultancy specialising in workplace safety, reveals that the utility sector is at higher risk for serious injuries and fatalities (SIF*) than other industries, such as construction, manufacturing and mining.

This is partly due to the fact that “utility workers frequently work in high hazard environments (e.g. elevation, confined spaces, high voltage environment, and flammable gas presence).”

The 2018 Utilities Sector SIF Study examined 1,060 recordable incidents across 11 prominent utility organisations across the electric, gas and water sectors. The findings indicated that:

  • The utility sector has a 32% SIF exposure rate, which is seven points higher than the all-industry SIF rate of 25%.
  • Water has the highest SIF exposure rate of all utilities studied, at 42%, followed by 32% for electric and 29% for gas.
  • Nearly 60% of SIF exposures in the utilities sector can be attributed to two exposure categories: motor vehicle incidents (30%) or “line of fire” or “struck by” incidents (28%). Other SIF events include contact with biohazard materials, a serious fall or an accident involving powered equipment.
  • The study also detected significant relationships between several cultural factors and SIF exposures. There is evidence that sites with higher scores in management credibility, perceived organizational support, organizational value for safety, procedural justice and leader-member exchange have lower SIF rates.

Don Martin, senior vice president at DEKRA, said the study was concerning, but not entirely surprising.

“The rate of on-the-job SIF is alarmingly high and affects all industries – not just the utility sector,” said Martin. “The bottom line is there are steps organisations can and should be taking to reduce SIF rates, and identifying and understanding the risk factors is step one.”

In this study DEKRA analysts found that incident categories ranking the lowest in SIF exposure verification and assessment are directly related to the highest SIF exposures. Specifically, using a critical control assessment rating on a scale of one to three, analysts found that the motor vehicle category in the utility sector has a very low critical control assessment score (1.69), meaning the SIF exposure potential is much greater (30%). Conversely, contact with powered lines and equipment has a much higher critical control assessment score (2.53) and therefore has a lower SIF exposure rate, just 4%.

Martin urges leaders in all organisations to review the safety of their operations, offering the following takeaways to mitigate SIF risk and exposure:

  • Educate senior leadership on SIF and when action needs to be taken.
  • Provide visibility to SIF exposure by defining what it is and determining the organization’s exposure rate.
  • Know the organization’s SIF precursors, defined as high-risk situations in which management controls are either absent, ineffective or not complied with and which result in a serious or fatal injury.
  • Integrate interventions into existing processes, such as implementing safety rules, training and incident handling systems.

The author of the report, R. Scott Stricoff, concludes that eliminating fatalities and serious injuries need to start by recognising that focusing solely on procedures and training isn’t good enough. Developing a culture of behavioural reliability (or a culture of consistently doing the right thing at the right time in the right way) will significantly add to increasing safety and needs to be fostered across behavioral, cognitive and system factors.

*SIF is defined as life-threatening, life-altering and fatal incidents in the workplace.

You can download the report here