What Causes Workplace Accidents?

That might, at first glance, sound like a silly or self-evident question… Accidents are caused by not doing something safely, right? But the issue is that in most cases, the people who have or cause accidents do, in fact, know better. They know that it isn’t safe to use a table saw without putting on safety glasses. They understand that they shouldn’t back up without looking, but somehow they do it anyway and that’s the question. Why?

There are several attitudes that contribute to accidents in the workplace (or elsewhere for that matter). They are:

  1. Fear – That might sound strange because we tend to think that fear would keep us from doing something dangerous. There are many forms of fear and the fear of looking like a wimp (most men have accidents because they don’t want to look “unmacho” or “unmanly”) keeps people from pointing out unsafe behavior or actions. Fear of looking stupid keeps us from asking questions and challenging procedures. Fear of reprisal keeps us from refusing to do jobs that might put our health at risk.
  2. Anger and irritation – Road rage is probably the best example of this attitude that puts us at risk. In the workplace, conflicts can cause employees to take unsafe actions as well. A man who has lost his temper is rarely one who stops to consider the safety of his actions.
  3. Fatigue and tiredness – Safe actions require us to stop and think before we act. When we are tired we simply don’t tend to do this as often if at all.
  4. Complacency and overconfidence – “We’ve never had a problem before!” is probably the statement that those of us who deal in safety hear most often when we challenge and point out an unsafe behavior. You might have done it unsafely 1,000 times and gotten away with it but that doesn’t mean that the odds won’t eventually catch up with you. If it isn’t safe, it isn’t safe, not matter how often you’ve done it.

Changes in behavior take place when the motivation for the behavior changes. Simply telling someone to wear safety glasses isn’t enough. Change the motivation and the behavior changes, it’s as easy as that.

One thought on “What Causes Workplace Accidents?

  1. It’s great to see someone focusing on attitudes rather than referring to culture and behaviour. This is often the missing link.

    I love the reference to fear. In today’s PC world, we would use many synonyms to describe this, but fear works for me.

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