When Safety Comps Get Tough

By Frank Kenna

Despite an excellent long-term airline industry safety record of improvement, this year may the worst in the past 5 years for crashes world-wide, according to an article in the Thursday edition of The Wall Street Journal.

How could that be?  Well, the number of fatal crashes has dropped dramatically over the past 50 years as the above chart shows.  But so far this year, there have been 13 fatal crashes compared 10 for the entire 12 months of 2009.  It seems that safety has gotten so good over the years that there’s just not a lot more room for improvement.

Workplace safety has also made great strides over the years, but not quite so dramatic as the airline industry.  For example, data from the Center for Disease Control website shows that from 1933 through 1997, deaths from unintentional work-related injuries declined 90%.

Has all the low-hanging fruit been picked?  At what point is it not worth investment of “the next dollar” to prevent further accidents? Based on my observation of industry safety groups and our customers, safety communications and investment is still very much worth it.  The thought of losing even one preventable serious injury or death drives us all to go the extra mile.

When is it “good enough?”  Here’s a good idea from Canada:  The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s “Road to Zero” is a strategic plan for 2008-2012 that aims to achieve zero fatalities, injuries and illnesses in Canadian workplaces.  Is zero really possible?  It’s certainly a great goal.

Chart: The Wall Street Journal, 9/2/10, p D1

Sharon Toelle
September 8, 2010

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