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January 23, 2006
Break the Vicious Cycle of Repeat Accidents!

One accident is bad enough, but when the same accidents happen over and over, and when the same employees are involved in accidents month after month, year after year, something has got to be done to break the vicious--and potentially deadly--cycle.

What causes repeat accidents? Look in these areas for the origin of most repeat accidents:

  • High-risk jobs involving hazardous chemicals, dangerous equipment, confined spaces, etc.
  • High-stress jobs without adequate built-in relief, such as enough staff or sufficient break times
  • Seasonal jobs that involve periodic high-volume work, which can create accident clusters
  • Repetitive jobs that can cause ergonomic injuries
  • Repeat injuries from previous injuries that did not heal properly, possibly because of returning to work too early
  • Referred injuries from overcompensation of other body parts to make up for the injured body part, such as hip problems from adjusting the gait to accommodate a knee injury
Why It Matters...
  • Studies have shown that some people really are more accident-prone than others.
  • Some safety professionals claim that the percentages are as much as 20 percent of employees causing 80 percent of the accidents.
  • Repeat accidents multiply the damage caused by safety incidents and can unleash a vicious circle of accident clusters in which demoralized and stressed workers continue to have accidents.

Who causes repeat accidents? The usual suspects include:

  • Stoic "tough guys" who work through any injury and consider it a sign of weakness to do otherwise
  • Angry people who let passion distract them from working safely because they're "just so angry they can't see straight"
  • Easily distracted people who don't pay enough attention to what they're doing
  • Disengaged workers who don't care enough to be careful
  • Tired people, including shift workers, whose lifestyle doesn't give them enough energy or alertness to work safely
  • Workaholics who won't stop to report for fear of losing work time
  • Shy workers who won't draw attention to themselves by reporting an incident and risking an investigation of their work

How can you break a cycle of accidents? Focus on these important do's and don'ts:

  • Make no more repeat accidents a Number One safety objective.
  • Clearly communicate the priority of this goal to all employees.
  • Be a safety advocate and remind workers not to take shortcuts, use substitute tools, or otherwise increase their risks of accidents.
  • Use rewards and incentives rather than punishments and discipline to make preventing repeat accidents a positive goal rather than a negative experience.
  • Emphasize hazard detection, encouraging employees always to be on the lookout for potential safety problems.
  • Don't criticize safety performance without also offering suggestions and support.
  • Don't lecture. Lectures turn employees into passive receptors rather than engage them in their own safety performance.
  • Don't blame. Even if an employee makes a mistake, remember that the goal is to fix the problem, not to point the finger at someone.
  • Don't assume the worst of people. This assumption can backfire by becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy for the singled-out employee.
  • Don't give pep talks with simplistic answers. Actions speak louder than words, so back up encouraging words by making real changes and offers of assistance.
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