When people think of workplace accidents, they automatically associate them with high-risk industries such as construction and serious accidents that make dramatic headlines. The truth is: accidents can happen in any industry, and the majority are minor 'everyday' incidents rooted in mundane – and largely preventable – causes.
According to HSE figures, handling, lifting and carrying are the most common source of accidents, accounting for 20% of workplace injuries, followed by slips, trips and falls, which account for 19%.
While there is no silver bullet strategy for eliminating accidents in the workplace, specific actions and processes can considerably diminish the likelihood of them occurring.
Reporting and recording near misses is a great start, but it's a pointless exercise unless it leads to positive action. Near misses are a free learning opportunity because they highlight a potential problem without any subsequent injury or loss. Categorise near misses into high or low-risk potential. High potential is those situations that could have resulted in significant injury and often need to be investigated in the same way as an actual accident. Low potential near misses can generally be prevented from recurring through awareness.
Don't wait until it's too late before establishing what risks your workers face; seek them out and mitigate them proactively. The goal is to break the error chain before a near miss even occurs. In other words, don't be reactive when it comes to workplace accidents. Risk assessments play a vital role here; they allow you to find potential accidents before they happen. You should conduct risk assessments regularly as well as whenever there is a significant change in the workplace.
Once you know the hazards that your workers face, make a plan to implement control measures that reduce the risk of them turning into workplace accidents. The hierarchy of controls diagram shows the different controls you can use and their effectiveness. Consider, for example, an employee who works on a computer and is at risk of RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury). The least effective way to mitigate this risk is to offer them a wrist support (PPE). A better solution is to substitute the mouse with a more ergonomic design or supply the staff member with a gel wrist pad (substitution). Failing that, vary their tasks, so they are not at a computer for their entire shift (administrative controls).
Without proper training, an employee may unknowingly put themselves and their coworkers in dan-ger. Therefore, everyone must have safety training relating to the specific hazards of their job. Training also empowers staff to identify hazards and assess risks to quickly determine how best to minimise, remove, or control risks within a workplace environment. Follow up with regular retraining sessions to refresh knowledge and keep employees up to date on policies and procedures. Reinforce safety measures at every opportunity and reward employees who adhere to safety standards.
With many companies reducing staffing levels in response to difficult economic conditions, it will come as little surprise that overexertion now ranks as one of the most common contributing factors behind workplace accidents. Insufficient staffing levels have a detrimental impact on a range of health & safety outcomes. There is a danger that individuals become overloaded, resulting in stress and occupational ill health, or that exhaustion may result in accidents due to lapses in concentration. For example, accidents on machinery are far more likely to happen if an operator is exhausted and fueled by caffeine. Continually assess the health & safety implications when making staffing decisions.
Accidents happen when employees skip steps to complete a job ahead of schedule. It might be that they are under time pressure due to inadequate staffing (see above) or that they're familiar with their job and have become complacent. At other times, it might be that they deem a safety measure to involve too much effort. For example, a worker may decide not to don PPE or a safety harness because they only want to complete one small task and gearing up is time-consuming. The best way to ensure your staff commitment to safety measures is to involve them in selecting equipment, making sure they understand the importance of using it and leading by example.
In industries like construction, logistics, manufacturing, and repair, using dangerous equipment can't be avoided. However, workplace accidents don't have to be an inevitable part of the job.
Perform regular inspections of machinery, equipment, and tools. From hand drills to large shared vehicles, makes sure that the machines employees use for their jobs are safe and function properly. Schedule preventative maintenance and when something breaks, repair or replace it right away.
Poor housekeeping can introduce serious health & safety hazards. The workplace layout should have adequate footpath markings, be free of debris, and include stations for cleaning up spills. Carry out regular safety walks to identify workplace hazards that could cause harm.
Once a year and after any accidents, review your organisation's safety policies and procedures. Do they still apply to the risks your employees face? If you have changed the way you perform a task, started using new equipment or tools, or moved to a new location, you should carry out risk assessments. When you update safety protocols, communicate the changes throughout your organisation. Send a company-wide email detailing the changes for minor updates and provide updated training if a policy or procedure changes significantly.
In your eagerness to foster a safe culture, don't overlook the basics, such as first aid. All companies, big or small, should have a first-aid system in place – including trained first aiders – to prevent any injury from becoming worse. Fire precautions are another fundamental safety step that should never be overlooked, as fires are a common cause of workplace accidents. All buildings should have fire detection and warning systems in place and should be equipped with fire extinguishers. It is also essential that workers are trained in using fire extinguishers should the need arise.