Comment – Two sectors divided by a single aim

It is a commonly-held belief that accident near-misses represent a valuable opportunity to control a hazard. True industry leaders view near-misses as both learning and improvement opportunities; a chance to understand the nature and cause of a near-miss and to put in place the appropriate improvements to ensure that an incident is not repeated.

I have worked with demolition company principals that have been agitated and even angered by a lack of near-miss reporting from their site teams. They suggested openly that if there are no near-misses being reported then their teams are not looking hard enough.

Against that background, a new initiative from the International Powered Access Federation (IPAF) should be roundly applauded while the global demolition industry’s failure to follow suit should be seriously questioned.

IPAF recently relaunched its worldwide accident reporting portal as part of a major drive to gather the best quality data from around the world, in order to analyse that data and uncover what can be learned about improving safety in the powered access sector.

The new IPAF reporting portal makes it easier to report an accident or near miss. It works on multiple devices, allows multiple users per company, and has a feature for users to register subsidiary companies.

This allows access, reporting and analysis across a group of companies in one or more countries, linked to one parent company, enabling firms to compile their own company or group safety analysis, while creating an anonymous, up-to-the minute database for real-time analysis by industry experts.

The new portal has launched in English but will see additional languages added through the rest of 2020.

While slightly over 60 percent of all the data gathered via the reporting project is from the UK, this proportion is decreasing all the time as members in other countries commit to using the portal, and updating the project with detailed information about incidents.

Deciding to focus initially on the data reported by UK members, IPAF has been able to take a granular look at some of the common underlying causes of accidents, locations and types of industry or activity in which they occurred.

Brian Parker- set to join IPAF next as the organisation’s new Head of Safety & Technical and a key part of IPAF’s Accident Project Work Group – looked in depth at previously unpublished data including the latest statistics for 2019.

He explains that data given via the IPAF portal tends to be more detailed and useful than those gleaned from national databases such as OSHA accident reports in the US. In fact, much of this third-party data has to be laboriously reviewed and cleansed to make it suitable for use in IPAF’s analysis.

As an example, he outlined how information relating to accidents leading to injuries and deaths involving delivery drivers showed these almost always involve the loading or unloading process. Accordingly, IPAF plans to overhaul its Load/Unload Training course for 2021, as it did with MEWPs for Managers training last year after statistics showed many accidents could be traced back to poor planning or oversight of operations.

While the powered access sector has pinned its colours firmly to the transparency mast, the same – sadly – cannot be said of the demolition sector.

In demolition, near misses are treated as a closely guarded secret as there is an abiding fear that the report of any such incident might somehow be used against the company involved. In demolition, a near miss is viewed not as a learning opportunity but as classified information. In demolition, we are far more likely to sweep a near miss under the nearest rug rather than post details of it on a dedicated website.

That attitude is not just myopic in its shortsightedness. Nor is it just selfish and self-serving. It is to the detriment of the wider demolition industry.

A near miss suffered by one company is a potential learning opportunity for the entire industry. A shortcoming discovered in a working practice or methodology here in the UK could potentially save a life in the US. Or France. Or Germany. Or anywhere.

It is easy to point to IPAF’s global reach as a key factor in its ability to develop and maintain a near-miss portal of this kind. This does afford the powered access sector with an advantage over the demolition sector, which is still “governed” in silos from individual nation states.

But as IPAF itself has pointed out, the website started with approximately 60 percent of its content sourced right here in the UK. And besides, the UK’s National Federation of Demolition Contractors, the American National Demolition Association, and the European Demolition Association are not strangers to each other. And while current travel restrictions largely disqualify them from meeting face-to-face, there is surely nothing to stop these organisations – and others – from getting their heads together and following the IPAF lead.

Similarly, there is a temptation to leave the accident and near-miss information gathering to the likes of OSHA in the US and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK.

I cannot speak for OSHA. But, as I have reported repeatedly since that fateful day in February 2016, details of the fatal accident that killed four demolition workers at Didcot Power Station remain locked within the HSE’s hallowed halls to this day. More than four and a half years later, and the industry is still waiting for some indication of just what caused that tragedy; information that could potentially save a life here or somewhere else in the world.

A near miss or a full-blown accident is a learning opportunity. Equally educational is the example set by others.

The International Powered Access Federation has done the hard yards in its potentially life-saving intelligence-gathering initiative. It has set the example and it has forged the path. The global demolition industry now just needs to follow that example and pursue that path to a better-informed and safer future.