Fatalities happen for different reasons, and are not affected dramatically by management intervention in the same way as recordable accidents. Fatalities are quite often a confluence of many (or at least several) different causations, any one of which, had it not concurrently occurred, could have been a single contributor that instead of making it happen, made it not happen. Management is generally trying to minimize the numbers of causal factors, but has not really done much to eliminate the possibilities of many/few coming together simultaneously.
Also, my opinion is that fatalities happen more today because of a human factor that is instructive in telling us that the conditions and awareness that we manage, and preach, and find out in our investigations, is not the primary causal factor in many fatalities.
We have fall protection equipment like never before, but humans don't inherently believe they'll fall, or don't believe they will die if they do fall, and they continue to violate known rules, fail to wear (in many cases) provided and worthwhile equipment, fail to hook that equipment off, for short term or long term, and they continue to die.
Traffic accidents continue to kill so many workers, and it’s generally the same type of behaviors or circumstances that we know cause accidents and death, and yet the driver still does it.
Before we solve the question you ask, we will have to solve the questions of the sort like this. "Do you know you can fall and die?" Yes. "Do you know that you could be whipped off the roof, holding that plywood, in a minor wind, and that you could thereafter fall and die? Yes. "Why do you continue to carry that plywood on the roof." A hundred different answers will be presented - from I know about the probability and I'd let it go, I can handle it, I have done it so much before, I can tell how much the wind is having an affect, I have to do it, I have no other choice, I don't know of another way, etc. All lies, compared to his prior two (or more) self-truths.
The current safety and health management science, and surely the physical and operational controls and “rules” that are espoused by OSHA as lifesaving, are really not doing that, and are really not at all providing any insight or solutions to the problem you posed in your question. I don't know the answer, and I have been asking what you are asking for 35 years. I know what it is, and I have been somewhat successful, I feel at preventing deaths in my clients, but that information is not getting out, and certainly not getting into the science of safety management. Behaviorists are close to the problem, but positive reinforcement is but a tiny part of the deadly behaviors we have.
I think, too, there is some statistical significance to the types of deaths. For instance, I don't think that the number of deaths from gassings, or acute exposures to contaminants is the same as it was five or ten decades ago. But they have been replaced by other forms of death. This reflects work procedure improvements, and liability concerns by employers improving general conditions and processes, and controllable factors not the making of the worker. This still points to the behavior issues I pointed out above.
Looking at our culture, we can see that our death counts are so much higher than other cultures. (Civilized countries are the only fair comparisons.) What is it about awareness AND compliance by individuals, and their peers, and employers, in other countries, that we are missing?
Needs some work, doesn't it. Good questions. Bugs me too.
Posted by Barry Cole