The only thing that we possibly can find of value in accidents is what we can learn from them. Are operating procedures in need of change? Is training adequate? Are there uncorrected unsafe conditions or unsafe behaviors?
Accident investigations are a must if we want to identify the root causes of accidents and prevent their recurrence. Airline travel safety significantly has been improved as the result of accident investigations conducted by the NTSB and other national traffic safety boards. Operating procedures, pilot training and aircraft designs have undergone numerous improvements over the years.
Yet recent actions (against Southwest Airlines by the FAA and by OSHA against United Airlines) indicate that work still is needed. The same can be said for the workplace.
While the costs of workplace accidents seldom rival those of catastrophic airline accidents, the costs to the injured workers, their families, their co-workers and their employers are significant. A Liberty Mutual survey showed that, in 2012, the cost of workplace accidents was a staggering $198.2 billion.
Despite the implementation and enforcement of OSHA regulations and company safety programs, we still see too many accidents. In 2011, there were more than 32 million reported accidents in the United States. With a population of over 311 million, that works out to one accident for every 10 citizens. Those are not very encouraging odds.
Very few organizations can point to a sterling safety record, nor can most say that everything is okay when it comes to workplace safety. If it were, there would be considerably fewer accidents.
Statistics confirm that there are just eight major CAUSES that account for most accidents. These are struck by, struck against, overexertion, slips/trips/falls, ergonomic/repetitive motion, caught in/between, contact with (chemicals; electricity; high temperature) and motor vehicle incidents (including powered industrial vehicles). The first four deserve special attention because, in 2012, they accounted for three-quarters of all lost-workday accidents (Bureau of Labor Statistics).
Causes are preceded by reasons, which, more often than not, stem from human behaviors. These can include: mistakes, errors in judgment, failure to follow procedures, lack of attention or awareness, unsafe conditions/equipment, system error, lack of training, overconfidence, failure of the design process, failure to wear PPE, failure to correct identified hazards, rushing and complacency.
One of the best ways to make a dent in the number of accidents is to follow the paradigm Know-See-Act:
- You have to KNOW that something is a hazard in order to alert you that there is a danger. Organizations need to develop and update hazards and accident lists and share them with employees. Prioritizing by the risk involved will highlight the most pressing hazards.
- You must SEE the hazard, by constantly being aware of your surroundings.
- You must ACT to avoid or minimize the risk posed by the hazard.
An effective approach is to talk yourself through whatever actions you are about to undertake, keeping in mind whatever risks you are about to face.
We face risks every day. Using the Know-See-Act approach will go a long way toward keeping you safe.
Joseph Werbicki is a safety consultant/trainer who can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 774-991-3945.