An Ounce of Prevention for Workplace Accidents

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An Ounce of Prevention for Workplace Accidents

Accidents in the workplace in 1987 had a price tag of $42.4 billion, according to the National Safety Council. That's a lot of money, and it raises some questions. Could those accidents have been prevented? Are some workers more accident-prone than others? How can training and supervision help reduce accidents?

Accident investigators often classify accidents by threed causes: people, conditions, and acts of nature. A review of worker compensation statistics from Indiana and California indicates that the first cause--the human element--is the most important factor in accidents and accident prevention.

Statistics from those two states show that employees with less than a year of experience are much more likely to have accidents than are workers with more time on the job. Almost 30 percent of the accidents reported in 1986 to the Indiana Worker's Compensation Board involved employees with less than a year on the job. Of those accidents, 20 percent happened during the employee's first month, 17 percent in the second month, and 15 percent in the third.

In California the vulnerability of new workers was even more dramatic. In 1987, employees with less than a year of service had more than 42 percent of the reported accidents. Of those injured in their first year, nearly 22 percent were hurt during the first month.

A national study of occupational injuries and illnesses done by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that 48 percent happened to workers in their first year of employment.

The numbers also indicate that younger employees are more prone to accidents. Nearly 40 percent of accidents involving California workers happened to workers between 20 and 29 years of age. Employees in their thirties accounted for about 29 percent of accidents, but the rate dropped to just over 16 percent for the 40-to-49-year-old group. Only 9.7 percent of accidents involved workers in their fifties.

The type of occupation is also critical in accidental injuries. Obviously, the more inherently hazardous the occupation, the greater the likelihood of an injury to a first-year worker. The BLS report stated that office, professional, and kindred workers typically had one-half to one-third the number of first-year injuries or illnesses that industrial workers experienced.

Only 27 percent of accidents and illnesses involving managers and administrators happened in the first year of employment, whereas 72 percent of accidents to construction laborers and structural metal workers occurred during that time.

Accident-prone workers

Why are young or new employees more likely to have accidents? The National Safety Council suggests several reasons.

Many young or new employees have not had the chance to develop an ability to sense a hazardous situation, according to the NSC. They may not be aware of the degree of concentration required to do their jobs safely. Many young people are prone to taking unnecessary risks to prove that they are not afraid of anything. Also, they may lack the training or education to understand job instructions or safe procedures. Last, NSC says, young or new employees may find it difficult to ask for help.

In his article, "The New Employee--How Can You Help?" (Occupational Safety & Health, June 1984) George Socrates offers the following reasons why new hires--regardless of age--are prone to accidents:

* They often work in unfamiliar surroundings.

* They tend to lack experience or knowledge.

* They may not be familiar with equipment.

* Many are overanxious to please.

* They may be hesitant about calling for help.

* They are often asked to do new or unfamiliar tasks.

* Many of them are not sufficiently supervised.

New-employee orientation

Are there ways to address the factors that put new and young employees at risk? …