S.A.F.E.@work: They Called it an "Accident"

Awhile back I lost a friend during the Missouri turkey hunting season. Rick, a retired lineman, was hunting on public land when another hunter, who was 30 yards away, shot and killed him.

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By Bill Dampf, C.S.P., Let’s Talk Success Presentations

Awhile back I lost a friend during the Missouri turkey hunting season. Rick, a retired lineman, was hunting on public land when another hunter, who was 30 yards away, shot and killed him. When I read the news article about the incident it was referred to as an “accidental shooting.” I couldn’t believe that a man that worked in one of the most dangerous occupations for more than 30 years lost his life because someone mistook him for a 20-pound bird.

As I discussed the details of the incident with some friends, the statement “it was an accident” kept being said. I really struggled with this.

Early on, one of the first things I learned was what an “accident” was. The traditional definition I learned was an accident is “an unplanned event that results in property damage, personal injury or death.” Even back then I didn’t like this definition. You see, in nearly every case I analyzed, it appeared the accident had been planned.

In the case of Rick’s death, the hunter chose to not verify his target was indeed a turkey. He planned to raise his shotgun, purposely aimed down its barrel and chose when it was time to pull the trigger and then did so. There was very little about that incident-except for its outcome-that wasn’t planned.

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As you think back to some of the accidents you have investigated, my guess is that there are many contributing causes that were deliberate choices made by those involved. Someone chose to not use protective equipment. Someone chose to not test a circuit. Someone chose to not comply with a safe work rule. In essence, a risk assessment was performed and a decision was made to accept the risk.

Remembering the old adage, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail,” most of the companies I work with place a great deal of importance on pre-job planning and hazard assessments. The hope is that all hazards will be identified and precautions taken, but we have to remember that hope is not a strategy. In fact, it has been my experience that in a high percentage of injury cases this essential planning process fails.

Realizing the importance of the job safety briefing and hazard assessment process, we as leaders must step up to ensure this process element is performed to the highest quality. It can’t be a “going through the motions” activity. The risks are too great.

On your next jobsite visit, get the workers together and ask them to re-enact their job planning session for you. Assess its quality and coach as necessary to ensure continuous improvement. Assess whether the plan is being followed. Challenge yourself by doing this on every visit for a full week and then periodically thereafter. Make sure your workers understand this is incredibly important to you and to them. In addition, do some research ahead of time to identify a few past incidents where a poor quality job plan resulted in injuries. Share these cases with your workers to emphasize why you feel these safety discussions are so critical. When incidents do occur, analyze them fully and place great emphasis on the quality of the job plan.

Do whatever you can to ensure your workers aren’t planning their next accident.

Bill Dampf is the retired Director of Corporate Safety and Health for a Midwest electric and natural gas utility. He has been in the safety profession for 36 years and an international speaker for 15. He acquired both his BS degree and Masters degree in Industrial Safety, is a Certified Safety Professional and published author.

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