May 26, 2023
With the mission of preventing serious injuries and fatalities in mind, Exponent Senior Associate Elif Erkal, Ph.D., and the director of the Construction Safety Research Alliance have co-authored a peer-reviewed article on high-energy control assessments (HECA) published in Professional Safety — Journal of the American Society of Safety Professionals. Their work focuses on a next-generation safety performance metric that records front-line employees' exposure to life-threatening hazards.
For decades now, workplace safety in the U.S. has been benchmarked by the total recordable incident rate (TRIR), a record of the number of reported recordable incidents per 100 full-time workers in a year. As a lagging indicator, this metric does little to predict incidents or protect employees. Moving beyond TRIR, HECA records the existence of high-energy hazards (i.e., gravity, electricity, pressure, motion) and associated direct controls to mitigate the impact of the high energy when released in contact with a worker.
The authors define direct controls as safeguards that remain effective even if a worker makes a mistake, such as engineered barricades, harnesses, lock-out tag-outs, or de-energized electrical systems. In contrast, conventional safety protocols such as workplace training, supervision, safety signage, and situational awareness would not be considered direct controls since they remain vulnerable to human error.
As a method for continuous safety performance tracking, the authors position HECA as a monitoring safety metric that enables professionals across industries to compare outcomes, assess trends, and make strategic decisions to protect workers against life-threatening, life-altering, and life-ending hazards.
From the publication: "By combining the latest science in high-energy controls with principles of human and organizational performance, HECA is underpinned by science, statistically valid, focused on serious injuries and fatalities (SIF), and representative of a modern understanding of safety as the presence of safeguards rather than the absence of injuries."