In the July/August, 2000, issue of OHS Canada you asked six health and safety professionals "Are all accidents preventable?" I believe that as long as humans are involved in any activity there will be mistakes made and mistakes lead inevitably, and at times regrettably, to accidents. When the standard is that no mistakes will be made and no accidents are to happen, it implies that someone is performing at a less than acceptable level when mistakes are made and accidents happen. My experience is that people do the best they can and have no intention of making mistakes and causing accidents. A safe worker is one who recognizes his or her mistakes and potential mistakes and either effectively recovers from them or avoids them before the consequences become disastrous.
We as organizations and individuals should conduct our activities to recognize our mistakes and develop strategies to mitigate their consequences. Accident defences and recovery strategies take the form of risk identification and assessment, personal protective equipment, standard procedures, employee training and supervision and a management supported environment in which workers can do their jobs safely.
ALPINE HELICOPTERS LTD.
We can't prevent all accidents
I believe the answer to the question "Can all accidents be prevented?" is yes. We undertake all of the necessary due diligence issues, training, observation, ergonomics, task analysis, inspection, etc., to hopefully avoid having accidents. The question then becomes "Can we prevent all accidents?" The answer to that question is no. As Mr. Gilmore says, it is not reasonable to expect people to be perfect and without error. Somewhere, sometime, something is going to fail whether it be people or equipment. How we prepare for this failure goes a long way in determining the eventual severity of the accident.
I believe Mr. Bennett takes a narrow view of the whole issue, which is not surprising considering his background. Of course, engineering safety and eliminating the hazard rather than lessening the impact should be the first priority in any organization. However, once again, we are dealing with these "imperfect" mechanisms called human beings. Safety must start first with those ultimately responsible. That is, each and every person should honestly believe that their own safety rests first with themselves.
REDUCTION OPERATIONS TRAINING AND SAFETY COORDINATOR
ALCAN -- KITIMAT WORKS
Not a minority
Thanks for the article on incident preventability in the July/August issue. Provocative, and very useful responses from our colleagues. Incident causation and the business case for workplace safety are -- in my humble opinion -- the two largest unresolved issues in our whacky discipline. The absence of sound data in each case is damaging our professional development and, in fact, our acceptance on executive radar screens everywhere. Nice to see some dialogue on one of them. Now, if we could only stimulate some meaningful research.
The article quotes Peter Strahlendorf as saying "A minority of people in any organization believe that accidents are either pre-destined..." I've had the privilege of practising from Whitehorse to Moncton, and have found a clear majority in every industry believe that "stuff happens" (to paraphrase the popular expression). There is an appalling lack of understanding of incident causal factor relationships, and the old "dumb worker" and "stupid management" paradigms are very much alive and well everywhere I've been. Yes, there are some enlightened exceptions, but they are exceptions. Further, I don't see this changing very quickly unless/until we're able to present a meaningful business case for changing the paradigm. The business environment is getting crazier, and we're falling further and further behind in creating an apologetic for our discipline.
DON SAYERS, CD, CRSP
Landing near the stars
The opinions of the six experts remind me of the old story about the four blind men describing an elephant. A true picture is not perceived until all the descriptions are put together to complete the picture. Are all accidents preventable? Yes. There are technology and methods available to do this (i.e., you could live in a concrete bunker). Is it practical to do this? No. In our everyday lives we must take risks to function. Risk comes from many different sources -- environment, equipment, people, materials, timing, knowledge and so on. Where there is risk, there will eventually be an accident. Therefore the focus, using many tools and methods described by the six experts, should be to eliminate unacceptable risks, evaluate other known risks for outcome and act accordingly, and continually search for the unknown risks that may lead to an accident. The mission for safety professionals is to be accident-free, which I started out by stating is impractical; however, if you shoot for the moon and miss, you still end up among the stars....