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Safety in Numbers

Optimize Blog - April 2, 2012 - 0 comments

We have recently come across a new statistical unit – the ‘micromort’. The micromort was developed by researchers at Stanford University back in the seventies and it is defined as a one-in-a-million chance of sudden death.
There are two sorts of risks that affect our lives – acute risks (which could kill us on the spot), and chronic risks (which accumulate trouble for the future). Of course, the same hazard might have both effects.
But let us start with acute risks: the sort where you start the day all fine and healthy, but finish the day dead because of an accident. We are all faced with some acute risk in our daily lives, as even if you stay in bed all day an airplane might crash into your house. So to compare them we need a useable unit of deadly risk – and that is our new friend, the micromort.
This might sound a bit comical, but it is deadly serious as it means that we can translate small risks into whole numbers that can be immediately compared. For example, the risk of death from a general anesthetic in an emergency operation is quoted as 1 in 100,000, meaning that we can expect 10 deaths in every million operations from the anesthetic alone. This is described as 10 micromorts per operation, and we can compare this figure with other average risks, such as skydiving (also 10 micromorts), or riding a motorcycle (you have to go around 60 miles to rack up 10 micromorts).
So a micromort can be seen as the average “ration” of lethal risk that people are exposed to daily.
The US Bureau for Labour Statistics provides some extraordinary statistics on the fate of 130 million workers in 2010. A total of 4,547 workers were killed, a rate of 35 micromorts per worker per year. The most common cause was highway accidents. But, believe it or not, the second most common cause of death, larger than falls or being hit by things, is “assault and violent acts”. This comprises 18% of all work-place fatalities, and includes 506 homicides (this was down from 860 homicides in 1997). So this means that each year US workers have on average around 4 micromorts risk of being murdered at work.
Comparing these figures with the wider world is tricky, as reliable statistics are hard to come by. For example, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) said that India reported 222 fatal accidents at work in 2005, while the ILO reckoned the true number was nearer 40,000.
Out of 2 billion workers worldwide in 2008, the ILO estimated that there were 317 million injuries requiring more than 4 days absence, and 320,000 people killed while at work, although they only heard about 22,000 of these deaths through official channels and so had to guesstimate the rest. This makes it an average of 160 micromorts per year per worker.
Apart from niche jobs such as providing security in unstable regions of the world, the highest-risk occupation in the UK today for example is commercial fishing. A recent study found 160 deaths in commercial fishing in the UK between 1996 to 2005, which works out as 1,020 micromorts per year per fisherman. This is staggeringly high – about the same as the risk British coal-miners faced in 1911. Commercial fishing is also the most dangerous job in the US, with a risk of 1,160 micromorts per worker in 2010. Perhaps surprisingly, being a police officer was only the 10th most risky job in the US, at 180 micromorts a year.
So why has Zeitgeist suddenly become a statistics fiend and fan of the micromort? Health and Safety in the workplace starts with the leadership. We work closely with all our clients on Health and Safety no matter what the type of engagement. It is a fundamental accountability of a modern leader to ensure that the people within their teams and sphere of influence return home safe and well at the end of each and every day.
You might be sitting there reading this with responsibility for a team that sits in front of computers all day thinking that you are at a very low micromort statistic but it’s not all about acute risk. In 2009, a scientist called Katzmarzyk studied the lifestyle habits of more than 17,000 men and women and found that the people who sat for almost the entire day were 54 percent more likely to end up clutching their chests than those who sat for almost none of the time. That’s no surprise, of course, except that it didn’t matter how much the sitters weighed or how often they exercised. “The evidence that sitting is associated with heart disease is very strong,” says Katzmarzyk. “We see it in people who smoke and people who don’t. We see it in people who are regular exercisers and those who aren’t. Sitting is an independent risk factor.”
We are going to talk about health a bit more in this blog over the coming months but in the meantime, what action plan as a leader do you have for the welfare of your team? If the answer is “none” then can we suggest that you start creating one today……

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