Accident Prevention: the why and the how

Bob is 18 years old. It’s Bob’s first week on his job picking ang packing at a manufacturing company. They have a large warehouse where many of their products are stocked but they lack enough hands to do the many tasks they face. Bob has not received any training since starting this job. His employers say they will book him onto the next available training. His supervisor has been too busy to show him the ropes. Bob has read the company’s health and safety policy – he is ok with it as it looks just like that of his previous employer. Bob has never operated a forklift but today they are short of staff and his supervisor quickly shows him how its done and leaves him to it. Bob is mega confused but he manages to convince himself that he can do it. Everything seems good at first then suddenly he hits an unsuspecting coworker who ends up seriously injured and out of work for 3 months. Does this practise sound familiar? What can you pick from this? Who is to blame? Why did this accident happen? How could it have been prevented?

To understand accident prevention, the why and the how, one must first understand the nature of accidents and why they occur.

Why do accidents happen?
Accidents happen in the workplace primarily because of these 3 main factors – hazardous conditions, unsafe work practices, and ineffective administrative controls.

Hazardous conditions – the least causal factor but the most suspected. When carrying out an inspection, we tend to look for unsafe conditions neglecting the human aspect of things. Do we observe a worker carrying out his/her tasks? Do you take a good look at the company’s health and safety management system to check for flaws and inadequacies? Did you know you can perform an inspection at 10am and have an accident happen at 2pm on same inspected area / site? When an accident occurs, it is natural to assume that it was due to the existing physical conditions. Someone falls and our mind automatically links it to wet and slippery floors. Yes you are right but there usually is more to it. There is usually something that could have been done to prevent the wet floor in the first place. There are usually factors beyond a physical hazard. That brings us to unsafe practices.

Unsafe work practices – This accounts for far more accidents in the workplace than unsafe conditions. Cutting corners/intentionally violating safety, failing to adhere to company policy, failure to obtain permit to work, failure to follow a safe sytem of work, failing to LOTO (LockOut – TagOut), failing to use PPE, and the believe that nothing bad could happen to you are just a few of the unsafe practices and behaviours we tend to display at work.

Ineffective administrative controls – This comprises of factors like poor, inadequate or non-existent safety management system; inadequate or lack of resources, tools and equipment; lack of training, information and /or supervision of employees and failure of employer to enforce compliance with safety rules and policies. All businesses are different but many seem to use generic policies which do not cover many of their business operations – this is a dangerous situation as both employer and employees will be ill-equipped to work in a safe environment or manner. It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure an up to date policy, relaible and safe materials and equipments are readily available.

Say no to generic safety policies. They cause more harm than good. Click To Tweet

How can accidents be prevented?
Eliminating hazards is not just about removing the hazard in question – it also involves having safe conditions, safe practices and functional administrative controls.

  1. Documentation: First and foremost you need to have a functional health and safety policy and system. There also needs to be risk assessments and safe systems of work/processes in place. The policy must be drafted in a way that meets the safety needs of the company. All members of the workforce must be aware of the contents of these documents. Bob above was aware of the contents of the company’s policy but the policy was a generic one and really didn’t make any difference.

  2. Communication is key. Lack of communication among members of staff is one of the leading causes of accidents. There needs to be a policy on communication which everyone must have access to. Every workplace is different so this must be unique to your own workplace.

  3. Training: All employees must be trained before exposure to workplace hazards so they are better equipped to manage them and work safely. Read this post for better understanding on why this is very important. Bob in the case study above clearly wasn’t trained for the task and it almost cost a coworker her life.

  4. Supervise, inspect and observe regularly. It is not enough to just train your staff and leave them to get on with their job. You need to consistently check that they are following policies and procedures and are working safely. Only through doing this do you get to see their shortcomings and do something to change them. It might mean you having to retrain them where they appear to be lacking in a skill or knowledge. Training does not have to be a whole day’s affair. Read this post and this to understand better when and when not to go down the training route.

Do you now undertand the Bob situation? Are there any more ways you can think of to help prevent accidents in the workplace? Make your suggestions by leaving a comment.