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March 25, 2013
Expert urges employers to learn from accidents

An accident or injury is an unwelcome event at any workplace. But organizations that take strategic steps can use information about the incident to prevent similar events in the future.

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Hernani Veloso Neto of the University of Porto, Portugal, has published research on the subject in the March issue of the International Journal of Human Factors and Ergonomics. He identified three obstacles that stand in the way of treating workplace accidents as a source of what he calls useable knowledge.

According to Veloso Neto, the first challenge is fundamental structural barriers. These are related to organizational issues, such as whether news about accidents is disseminated beyond those immediately affected by the incident.

The second obstacle is “inter-individual” barriers, for example, communications between line managers and staff. And, barriers caused by the behaviors and response of those directly involved in the accident are the third barrier.

The key is a knowledge system that focuses on internal and external case studies and encourages the reporting of accidents, causes, and outcomes across the entire organization.

“To learn from accident experiences, organizations must create mechanisms to foster knowledge from the onset and to elicit changes based on that information,” Veloso Neto concludes. He says if such resources are not exploited, barriers will remain in place and accidents will be repeated.

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