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Accidents at work

With the recent pronouncement that the Occupational Safety and Health at Work Act 2005 would be finally proclaimed in January 2013, I would like to share some hints that may be of assistance to you.

One of the most perplexing issues in the workplace is the determining of the causes of workplace related accidents. In some cases, these accidents may result in severe injury or death. What follows after an incident of this type is usually an unnecessarily long process in determining the causes and probable factors that contributed to the incident.

This is due, in some cases, to the fact that the majority of companies and business do not have in place an accepted comprehensive procedure for determining accident causation. With this in mind, here are the suggestions.

Accidents are often a warning or an indication that the work place’s health and safety system is not working properly. The Occupational Health and Safety at Work Act 2005 will require that certain accidents and dangerous occurrences be investigated, and that the report contain specific information. It will also require that employers investigate any incident that causes, or could have caused, injury or loss to the employee.

First the act must address the definitions. Each country has developed, based on law, working definitions that are applicable to defining workplace accidents. In this regard, here are some generic definition outlines which may be applicable in any country:

* Accident means any unplanned event that causes, or may cause, personal injury or illness, or physical damage to structures and equipment.

* Accident causes can include: the direct cause (what directly led to the accident, such as an unsafe work practice, an equipment failure, is but one example) plus the indirect causes (working conditions that set the stage for the accident, such as inadequate training, or operational procedures, plus the root causes (fundamental flaws that ultimately created the conditions in the work environment leading to the accident — such as inadequate training — that may indicate defects in the employer’s health and safety management system).

* Inspection means an examination of a workplace, selected work area, or particular hazards, machinery, tools, equipment, and work practices and a comparison of what is found against applicable standards and best practices.

Accidents can be grouped as follows:

First there is Human error:

? Joking on the job;

? Influence of Drugs and Alcohol;

? Tired Workers;

? Carelessness-Servicing equipment in motion;

? Deliberate action by employee;

? Unsafe act or omission of another person;

? Timing;

? Operating equipment without authority.

Second, there is Mechanical Error:

? Equipment Failure;

? Faulty equipment;

? Incorrect equipment;

? Systems Error;

? Computer malfunction;

? Unsafe floors walkways, ramps etc.;

? Hazardous gases, dusts, mists, fumes;

? Inadequate ventilation and/or poor lighting.

Then there are Administrative causes to some accidents. These may and can include: inadequate hiring standards; employing persons with poor credentials or no skills for the job advertised or offered; inadequate job placement standards; no clear process for placing new employees in job types matched by the job skills and experience; inadequate enforcement of work standards and limited supervision of work standard enforcement by job supervisors; inadequate environmental control programmes where existing environmental control systems are not reviewed or have never been reviewed since introduction by company; or inadequate purchasing standards where there is no quality control involved in product or raw material purchases.

The primary focus of any accident investigation should be the determination of the facts surrounding the incident and the lessons that can be learned to prevent future similar occurrences. Accidents occur when hazards escape detection during preventive measures, such as a job or process safety analysis; when hazards are not obvious; or as the result of combinations of circumstances that were difficult to foresee.

A comprehensive accident investigation must identify previously overlooked physical, environmental, administrative, or process hazards, and the need for new or more extensive safety training, or unsafe work practices that should have been highlighted prior to the accident.

There are all types of accidents that can occur in the workplace, and they are usually grouped into three broad categories for easy reference: Serious, Non-serious, and Fatal. For example: a worker twists an ankle in a fall from a low scaffold (this could easily have been a broken leg or worse); a worker tips back in a chair and topples backward (backward falls are always serious because head injury might result); or a worker turns on a machine and gets a slight shock (shock from voltage potential greater than 75 volts DC or 40 volts AC is considered serious).

All accidents or near miss occurrences should be reported. All serious accidents, those involving lost workdays or near misses, should be investigated. In this case the role of the employer must be defined if the OSH process is to be effective for the benefit of all employees. The employer is ultimately responsible for the incident investigation. To make investigations more effective, the employer can integrate the process into the organisation’s health and safety system, and provide the OSH investigation team with appropriate training and resources.

Incident investigations should not be blame-fixing exercises. Attributing direct fault to the worker, supervisor, or employer will not produce results. Each incident has several contributing factors, not all of which are immediately obvious. OSH investigators must look for the deeper causes and not simply record events. These deeper causes must be corrected to ensure the effectiveness of the organisation’s health and safety system.

It is the employer’s responsibility to implement corrective action based on the accident investigation report, and not the OSH committee or OSH representative, who, as in most cases has no direct authority. That is the employer’s job. The role of the committee is to advise and recommend. The employer may ask a specialist for help in the investigation. These may include insurance companies, health and safety professionals, and technical specialists.

However, the employer is expected to involve the OSH committee, provide them with a copy of related reports, and discuss their concerns. The committee and the employer may conduct additional investigations if deemed necessary and mutually agreed.

OSH investigation of accidents or incidents is not a criminal investigation. It is, therefore, imperative that workplace cooperation be at the forefront of all interviews and evidence collection. Where death has been recorded, that form of investigation will be the responsibility of the police.

With the recent pronouncement of the Occupational Safety and Health at Work 2005 would be finally proclaimed in January 2013, we all must make sincere effort to be knowledgeable of the various aspects of this act and become proficient in supporting workplace safety.

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