Do we really want to get rid of the word “accident?”  While there is a definition of accident on its website, the National Safety Council is trying to get rid of the word from its materials “because workplace incidents are preventable,” according to Kathy Lane of the National Safety Council. The problem is whether any other term would carry the same impact. And would insurers accept any other term as the basis for any form of reimbursement? “Accident” gets attention! 

We do need to get rid of the perception that if you are working in hazardous conditions that sometimes you are going to experience an accident or injury, and there’s nothing you can do to avoid it.

What safeguards are there for those who work in dangerous occupations? The critical ones include extensive training, physical and mental fitness, appropriate personal protective equipment, constant risk awareness and the ability to respond to unplanned circumstances.

We must consider that no accident is accepted as the cost of doing business, no matter how hazardous the job. To make strides toward this goal, there must be ongoing efforts expended to improve safety awareness, such as:

  • Work to eliminate all injuries, not just the severe ones. 
  • Incorporate prevention by design, where safeguards are engineered into equipment and systems, rather than installed as an afterthought.
  • Provide meaningful training.
  • Stress accountability for safety across the entire chain of command as a condition of employment. The ultimate responsibility for safety must rest with each individual.
  • Raise awareness of hazards and the associated risks by constantly sharing information.

The risk posed by a hazard incorporates a number of factors, such as probability of accident occurrence if appropriate action is not taken; severity of outcome if remedial action is not taken; and the frequency in which people are exposed to the hazard.

Each of the three elements can be evaluated on a numerical scale from minimal (1) to catastrophic (5).  It’s a good idea to ask a cross-section of the workforce to participate in such an evaluation in order to identify and classify all of the hazards (both obvious and hidden) that may be present. Adding up the three numbers for each hazard prioritizes them. If you have a safety management system, this is a way to identify your significant safety hazards.

If you find it difficult to decide which numerical hazard rating number categorizes a hazard as significant, you might want to use the risk score formula developed by F.A. Manuele, which can assist in making a more objective decision by classifying calculated risk numbers into four decision-making categories.

Workplace injuries are tabulated annually by the Bureau of Labor Statistics into 12 major categories: overexertion; struck by; struck against; falls to lower level; falls on same level; slips, trips, loss of balance, no fall; caught in; exposure to harmful substances; transportation; repetitive motion; assault/violent acts; and, fire/explosion.

While the number of incidents in each category varies slightly from year to year, typically, 70 percent or more of accidents can be grouped into just four condensed categories – overexertion; slips/trips/falls; struck by; and struck against. Looking at the number of in-house incidents in these four areas provides a starting point to concentrate abatement efforts for the maximum impact.

After analyzing thousands of Travelers Insurance Co. accident reports, H.W. Heinrich in 1931 estimated that, for every 300 unsafe acts, you could expect 29 minor incidents and 1 major incident. He concluded that 80 percent of all accidents were the result of human error. His findings are memorialized in the Heinrich Triangle.

A later study, conducted in 1969 by Frank E. Bird, Jr., analyzing over 1.7 million Insurance Company of North America accident reports, concluded that for every 600 near misses you could expect 30 incidents of property damage, 10 minor injuries and 1 serious/major injury. He emphasized the importance of directing efforts at reducing the occurrence of not only serious but of less serious events, which could ultimately reduce the number of major injuries, especially low probability events that often defy explanation.

While there has been much discussion of late on the validity of Heinrich’s conclusions, each of us experiences far more near-misses and minor injuries than major injuries over our lifetime, either on or off-the-job, i.e., our own personal Heinrich-type pyramid.