Are Accidents Waiting to Happen on Your Job?

What causes injuries on the job, and how can they be prevented?

Employers usually say that injuries are caused by "human error." They say that workers wouldn't get hurt if only they were more careful on the job.

But that employer argument misses the point.

Since we all are human and cannot avoid mistakes, it is the employer's responsibility to provide safeguards so that mistakes don't become injuries.

A simple example involves machine guarding. Years ago, employers were not required to put guards on moving machine parts. When workers lost their concentration and got caught in a machine, management said they were hurt because they were "careless."

Now, guards are required and workers get caught in moving machine parts much less often.

They're still careless from time to time--we all are--but the safety protection keeps them from getting hurt.

The following is a checklist for identifying possible changes needed to prevent injuries on your job. The same list can be used after an accident to show management how the real causes can be corrected.

  • Are workers provided with too little time to do the job?
  • Are tools or equipment inadequate or poorly maintained?
  • Is there poor supervision?
  • Is there enough help?
  • Does the job involve an unsafe number of tasks?
  • Does it require physical positions or a degree of effort that will contribute to accidents and injuries?
  • Are there problems in the way the workplace is set up? For instance, is one work area too close to another?
  • Are stressful conditions that can contribute to accidents allowed to go unchecked? For example, too much noise? Vibration? Heat? Cold? Poor lighting? Exposure to chemicals that would cause headaches, dizziness, skin problems, or other irritation?
  • Are staffing or procedures inadequate to prevent conditions in which workers will trip or slip on something, be hit by a falling object, get caught between two objects, come in contact with electricity, etc.?
  • Is there an inadequate lock out system to keep machinery from moving during maintenance?
  • Are guards needed to protect workers from coming into contact with moving parts, falling from heights, or being struck by material which could be thrown out of a machine?
  • Do poorly designed or overly stressful work schedules make workers tired and less alert? Does management fail to provide all necessary protective clothing and equipment, and keep it in good working order?
  • Is training inadequate or too infrequent?
  • When accidents or near-accidents occur, do the union and company conduct an investigation so similar incidents can be prevented?
  • Are there violations in the workplace of legal standards enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Department of Transportation, or the Federal Aviation Administration?

Talk with other workers, your steward, safety rep, and local union officials about how to get unsafe conditions corrected before it's too late.

Local Unions also can get assistance from the International Union's Safety and Health Department.

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