Plant & Works Engineering
Understanding accidents - why they happen and what you can do
Published:  24 February, 2014

Jenni Bracken, end user activation marketing manager UK, at Kimberly-Clark Professional, looks at why accidents happen, to whom and why?

With so much focus on health and safety at work, most people would be forgiven for believing that workplace injuries and fatalities are rare. However, evidence from the HSE shows that workplace injuries and illness cost the UK an estimated £13.4bn in the year 2011/12 and in the same period there were 173 fatal injuries and 24,000 major injuries reported by employees.

While injuries can occur across a wide range of workplace activities, there are some areas that appear disproportionately dangerous. One in particular is maintenance, according to the HSE, between 10 and 15% of all fatal accidents occur during maintenance activity and some 15 to 20% of all accidents are maintenance-related. Across industry, maintenance is a routine activity, but for individual workers it often presents a deviation from everyday activity. As such, they find they’re using different tools and equipment, different personal protective equipment and there’s often pressure to get equipment back up and running fast. This can inadvertently breed conditions where accidents are significantly more likely than usual.

Further evidence from the British Safety Council points to the overwhelming majority (85%) of personal protective equipment-related accidents injuring men and between 2005 and 2010, out of 88 UK industry-wide fatalities across workers aged between 16 and 24, 84 were male, and while these are UK figures, they appear to be consistent with others spanning Europe, the US and Canada.

There could be a number of reasons for this trend, men are more likely to be involved in manual handling and heavy industrial jobs. It is also possible that younger workers may have received less training and have less experience and are also possibly more likely to take risks, less able to make decisions and be reluctant to speak up about safety issues

Although there is still a disappointingly large number of employees who do not provide appropriate personal protective equipment, an HSE report found that nearly a quarter of injuries occurred when equipment was provided but not used. Typically this is due to three reasons: a poor safety culture fostered by employers, the nature of the incident e.g. an emergency or other time pressures or human factors of tiredness, carelessness or social pressure. The HSE has further identified the following types of ‘human’ failure: a simple mistake during a frequently performed physical action, a lapse of attention or memory, an error of diagnosis or planning or a mistake understanding how something works and a deliberate breach of rules and procedures.

Reducing workplace injuries

There are several ways to reduce the likelihood of workplace injuries. These include:

• Ensuring clear standards are in place and that these are checked and adjusted regularly.

• Providing more rigorous and appropriate training for workers; fostering an increased awareness of at-risk groups within the business.

• Improving communication about safety rules and the potential consequences for ignoring them with teams and individuals.

• Improving visual management to deliver clear reminders to use the appropriate personal protective equipment for specific tasks (in particular reminders to use PPE for hands and feet).

• More focused monitoring and management by line managers.