<<<Safety Talks

Accidents Don’t ‘Just Happen’

Whenever there’s an accident, whether the result is a fatality or a broken plate or anything in between, someone is sure to ask: "How did it happen?"

The answer should always be the same: "It didn’t happen; it was caused." And it’s almost always possible to trace it back to somebody—or several somebodies—who fell down on their job somewhere along the line. Either they did something they shouldn’t have done, or they failed to do something they should have done.

Let’s suppose, just to illustrate what I’m talking about, that you fall on the stairs at home and break a leg. That accident didn’t "just happen"; there was no evil spirit putting the hex on you or lurking in the shadows to trip you. No, there was at least one quite tangible cause.

The odds are that the fall was your own fault—that some act of yours (or failure to act) was to blame. Maybe you were in a hurry and took the stairs faster than usual—faster than was safe. Maybe you were carrying an awkward load that put you off balance and kept you from grabbing the railing to steady yourself. Maybe you forgot to turn on the light over the staircase. Maybe your eyesight has been playing tricks on you, but you’ve put off seeing an eye doctor and getting proper glasses. There are probably dozens of other "maybes" that boil down to your being the cause of your own fall.

On the other hand, maybe there was someone else involved: one of the children left a toy on the step, or whoever discovered the stair light burnt out failed to replace the bulb. There could even be a combination of causes: You were in a hurry and didn’t turn on the light, so you didn’t see the toy that someone else left there, against the rules.

Accidents on the job don’t "just happen," either. They are caused by the actions or inactions of one or more people.
[Note: This is a good spot to get some participation from the group, by asking them to think of other actions, or failures to act, that might cause a fall down the stairs—say a stairway in your facility. Or mention an actual accident that occurred at your site at some time in the past (without reference to individuals, of course), and ask for possible causes.]

Now for the good news. Just as people cause accidents to happen, they can prevent them from happening. That’s the reason for the safe work practices we have established and the posted list of safety rules. It’s why we have regular training sessions to inform and remind you of ways to keep yourselves and your co-workers safe. It’s the reason we provide personal protective equipment that can help keep a potential hazard from causing actual harm.

But no work practices, rules, training, or equipment can prevent an accident from happening. You do that. You follow the lockout-tagout procedure; you leave machine guards in place; you tag and report a damaged tool or wire; you wear your safety glasses or bump cap.

Some of us have special responsibilities that have an effect on everyone’s safety. A maintenance supervisor, for example, has to do his or her job correctly or mechanical failures could be followed by accidents. The safety committee chairperson must be sure to post any change in evacuation procedure. And so on. But for the most part, your own safe behavior is your own greatest safeguard. Remember that when you’re tempted to take a shortcut or break the safety rule "just this once" or "just for a minute." That one minute could be exactly when the accident doesn’t "happen" but is caused.

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