Occupational Health Issues

When is an Accident an "Accident"?
"All accidents are preventable,” I once heard a safety manager say to his employees. It sounds good on the surface, but is it really true? An accident, by definition, is “an undesirable or unfortunate happening that occurs unintentionally and usually results in harm, injury, damage or loss” or “such a happening resulting in injury that is in no way the fault of the injured person.” At IWIRC, we see injuries daily that fit these definitions, but we also see many that do not. We treat those who, for any number of reasons, were injured at work and now you—the employer—are stuck paying for the undesirable or unfortunate happening that was unintentional, but by no means unavoidable.

How do you know if the accident was unavoidable? Let’s look at a few simple questions that you can use as a guide that will begin to answer that question for you. If you answer “yes” to these, then what you have is not an accident, but an act of poor judgment or negligence by someone somewhere who could have prevented the undesirable or unfortunate happening.

  • Was the accident the result of a person not following directions, either written or verbal? This seems so simple, doesn’t it? Consider the worker who stapled his own leg with a nail gun when the instructions on the tool said not to point it toward the body. Directions are for following. I often tell my staff that if I instruct them to do something and it was the wrong thing to do, there are no ramifications for them. As my daughter says, “my bad.” However, if they fail to follow what is written or given verbally, and things go awry, then fault falls on them.
  • Was there a policy or procedure that was not followed by the injured worker when the accident happened? Some workers have common sense and others, well… However, in the world of business, policies and procedures give the person lacking in this area something to fall back on.
  • Did someone fail to follow policies and procedures and someone else was injured? I was helping to investigate a claim for a restaurant some years ago. A worker was carrying a large tub of food across the floor (the weight was within her lifting limits). The worker slipped and fell and was significantly injured. When reviewing the accident, it was determined that the worker slipped on a meatball…that’s right, a meatball. Seems unavoidable (busy kitchen, food prep, etc.) until it was uncovered that a food spill was recognized nearly a half hour earlier, but not cleaned up immediately. To no fault of the injured worker, the delay in cleaning resulted in injury.

From my years of experience treating, educating and consulting in industry, I’ve come to the conclusion that not all accidents are preventable—thus the term “accident”—but if you take care to prevent those that are, your company will be a lot more profitable and your employees will be happier. IBI