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Safety Leadership: What We Can Learn From Accidents

Posted by Mark G. Gardner on September 14, 2018 in the category Training

wreck ahead road sign

This is a continuation of our blog series on Safety Leadership. So far, we’ve discussed safety and risk and we’ve established that we can never truly be safe. The best we can hope for is to avoid, eliminate or reduce risk and thus become a bit safer. We also established that leaders can play an important role in making things safer. We said that leaders are owners. They own the responsibility for others’ performance and for the achievement of mutually agreed-upon goals. Safety leaders own the responsibility for the safety, health and well-being of their followers.

We All Have Accidents

But what happens when we fail to avoid, eliminate, or reduce risk? We have accidents. Admit it, you too have had multiple accidents in your lifetime. At first you may push back and claim that you’ve never had an accident. But your limiting your understanding of accidents to vehicular collisions. Think of accidents in broader terms. Include cut fingers, broken bones, slips and falls, scraped knuckles and other calamities that you’ve suffered throughout your life. These are all accidents.

What Is An Accident?

Most of us know an accident when we see one. But can you define what an accident is? If we can agree on a definition for accidents, and really understand what they are, we might be able to learn from them and thus prevent them from happening again.

We’ve spent many years refining our definition for the word accident. It’s important that we agree on the definition so that we can do something about eliminating accidents from happening.

Accidents are Unplanned Events

First, accidents are unplanned events. No one gets up in the morning with the intent to hurt them self or someone. That would be aberrant behavior. Accidents are unplanned. But, there are a lot of unplanned events in our life and not all of them are bad. And that brings us to the second element of the definition.

Accidents Disrupt Activity

Accidents disrupt activity. They stop us from doing what we were doing. For example, I’m driving home from work and another driver smashes into my car. I’m forced to stop and share information with the other driver. And now I’m going to be late for dinner. That’s a disruption. But, the disruption could be much worse. Let’s say the accident is serious. Police would be called. EMS would arrive and potentially take victims to the hospital. Family members would be called in - now their lives would be disrupted. A claims adjuster would have to investigate the loss and determine who pays the bills. Maintenance technicians would have to repair the vehicles. And, physicians might have to repair the people. Accidents disrupt activity and sometimes they disrupt the lives of many people.

Accidents Involve or Affect People

Third, accidents involve or affect people. People get hurt. People lose money. Some people lose their jobs. Some people go to jail. And, some people die. So, accidents involve or affect people.

All Accidents Are Caused

Finally, and most importantly, accidents are caused. If you read newspapers or watch television news, the media would have you believe that somehow accidents are simply accidental and they’re just events that happen as a part of life. If true, that would tragic. We’d be hosed. There would be no recourse but to suffer the losses that occur from time to time. But fortunately, it’s not true. All accidents are caused. And that’s good news. That gives us hope, because if we can understand why accidents are caused, we can prevent them from happening again.

As it turns out, all accidents are caused by human behavior. Empty trucks parked against the fence never have an accident. Unused tools in the toolbox never have an accident. Only people have accidents because people cause accidents. This is not about blame or finding fault, rather it’s about learning. Accidents are mistakes and we can learn from our mistakes. Think back to childhood. You had plenty of opportunities to learn from your mistakes. Perhaps you put your fingers in a fire and got burned. It hurt, and you learned not to put your fingers in the fire ever again. Maybe you decided to bag your homework one night and go out with your friends and play. But the next day you had to face the consequences and go to detention. That wasn’t fun, and you learned to do your homework from then on. You see, we can learn from mistakes. Accidents are mistakes. And if we understand why they happen, we can learn how to prevent them from happening again.

Of course, safety leaders don’t want to wait until one of their followers has had an accident before they take action. Safety leaders are proactive. They want to prevent accidents from happening in the first place. As this series develops, we’ll explore why people have accidents and what you can do to prevent them from happening.

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