Are accidents avoidable?
Lt. Col. Brian Peters, 436th Maintenance Group deputy commander
Commentary by Lt. Col. Brian Peters
436th Maintenance Group deputy commander
1/18/2011 - DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- How often are you faced with a situation like this?
Worker one: "We really need to get this done today. Let's get going."
Worker two: "I'll go get the tools, but we'll need another person."
Worker one: "We can do this with just the two of us. I'll show you. I've done it lots of times. Besides, if we don't get this finished, the boss will be angry."
Worker two: "Ok. Let's get it done."
Sounds like a scenario we're all faced with almost every day doesn't it? We always have work to do and often have to do it with a shortage of personnel, equipment or time. There is nothing surprising about this situation; it is normal.
It is also the perfect recipe for an accident.
An industrial safety pioneer named Herbert Heinrich did extensive research into industrial accidents and their causes. In his widely accepted theories on workplace accidents, you only need three things to have an accident:
1) Work to be done.
2) An action to be practiced, usually by people.
3) An uncertain condition.
Faced with three conditions that we contend with in our workplaces every day, you may feel accidents are an inevitable part of the mission. You might be right.
Mr. Heinrich had different categories of accidents, ones that cause injury or damage and those that do not. In fact, he is very often cited for "Heinrich's Law" where for every workplace process that experiences an accident causing major injury or damage, there are 29 related accidents in the same process with minor injury or damage, and 330 other close calls with no injury or damage at all.
One can conclude processes that eventually result in a major accident are trying to be noticed by producing close calls workers can recognize and eliminate before a major accident occurs. It is only through the study of all these types of accidents we eliminate the uncertain conditions and avoid more serious events. Mr. Heinrich dedicated his life to determining the root causes of industrial accidents and tried to prevent them.
The Air Force has applied this research into our own quest to minimize accidents and eliminate them entirely. We have extensive workforce education programs. We have the Voluntary Protection Program and other similar programs to help capture the root causes of close calls and no injury or damage accidents. And finally, we employ teams of safety and quality assurance inspectors to investigate workplace accidents and compliance with workplace changes.
As workers in industrial areas, all of us share the responsibility to pay close attention to our work practices. Accidents in the workplace may not be completely avoidable. However, thanks to researchers like Mr. Heinrich and other safety pioneers, accidents that cause injury to personnel or equipment definitely are.
The next time you run into some uncertainty with a task, take a few moments to reflect on what series of events may have gotten you to that result. As the expert participant in the task, you are in the best position to figure out how to avoid repeating that situation in the future. By making this sort of reflection part of your day-to-day habits, you could be preventing the next accident in your work center.
We are all counting on you.