For years, safety, health, and environmental (SH&E) professionals have been devising ways to identify and mitigate hazards and evaluate the success of those interventions. Within his/her specific industry, each has worked to reduce injuries. SH&E professionals have studied the environment, job protocols, scheduling, specific injuries, and incentives. They have recommended engineering controls, personal protective equipment, administrative controls, various safety programs, and employee safety training. As the old saying goes, could we be barking up the wrong tree? In retrospect, it might seem that some safety programs have mirrored the "flavor of the month" or the "management style of the year." However, the focus has always been on improving the safety performance of the individual, the organization, and the industry. What if we are looking at the trees and missing the forest? Perhaps the circumstances surrounding injuries can be evaluated in another way--one that can guide recommendations and development of interventions. What if SH&E professionals can take this analysis "out of the box"? Using the mining industry as an example, safety efforts have traditionally focused on extraction and production activities. Viewing historical injury data from the 1990s within a broader paradigm, this article focuses not on specific injuries linked to extraction and production of minerals, but rather on mining injuries occurring within the context of worker construction, maintenance, and repair activities. Broad implications for safety are also considered.
NIOSH Pittsburgh Research Laboratory, P.O. Box 18070, Pittsburgh, PA 15236