"ARMED WITH THE ARTIFACTS OF YESTERDAY, TODAY'S CHILD FACES AN UNKNOWN FUTURE."
By its very definition, an accident is an unknown quantity. It is only with the benefit of hindsight that we can study its causes and probable prevention.
Such studies reveal around 97% of accidents are preventable - very sobering figure, and one that must make us ask: So how do we stop the next one from realising itself?
If we paraphrase the above quote, we can say: Our system is only as good as the last hazard identified - we really have no absolute protection against the possibility of a hidden hazard becoming uncontrolled and striking us down...
For this reason, we have to consider the elements of time surrounding an accident:
BEFORE: The old motto of the Boy Scouts is needed here - "BE PREPARED".
"The greater the contained energy, the greater the potential for disaster."
Energy may be in the form of a large, mechanical structure such as a tower where four legs are supporting an enormous weight; it may be in the form of a gas contained in a cannister; or it may simply be a large group of people in a constricted space.
Preparedness is the willingness and ability to consider all the possibilities of what can go wrong in our workplace - known and unknown - and be ready to face them in as best a manner as possible. Though we may not know everything that can go wrong, we can probably have an idea of outcomes, and prepare for the contingencies we will face. For example, we can consider the following possibilities in our planning:
An obscure hazard may occur were we to work in a retail shop next-door to a bank. This increases our own likelihood of exposure to discharged weaponry were an armed hold-up to occur at the bank.
DURING: What emerency protocols are in place? What services are accessing the facility to assist? Who is in charge? Is our preparedness suitable for the actual incident? Has staff training been sufficient to handle the event?
AFTER: The following factors are considerations in after-the-event procedures:
Investigation: Obviously, investigation is an essential to the ongoing hazard control process. We must learn to learn from our mistakes. In 1997, in an address to the NSW Standing Committee on Law and Justice, Francis Cavanagh, one of the founders of Advocates for Workplace Safety, said:
"The motto of all coroners should be TO SPEAK FOR THE DEAD, TO PROTECT THE LIVING. "
It is often in coronial investigations that fundamental flaws in systems are exposed and identified. If we cannot learn from these errors in judgement, we are doomed to repeat them.
Clean-up: clean-up after an accident can be prepared for in a number of ways. Counselling of clean-up crews will be a consideration where accidents are likely to involve blood and body-parts being around the area to be cleaned.
Adequate insurance claims and follow-up: ensure your claims are thorough and do not miss compensation where compensation may be due.
Counselling: of course, not just the clean-up crew mentioned above may need counselling. There may be others with the need: fellow-team mates; witnesses to the event; family and friends, and so on... Morale boosting will be part of the scenario also.
Review of general health and safety policies and procedures: are we still able to say "What we say we do is what we actually do?" or is it time for a change?
Review of actual emergency procedures: has our response to the emergency been successful or has there been a break-down in the procedure? For example, in a fire, did all the plant function as it should? Did fire pumps provide sufficient pressure? Were all personnel able to follow emergency exit procedures? And so on.
Prevention: finally, can we truly say "No. This particular accident will never happen again!"