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Accident investigations almost always reveal avoidable safety issues

Updated: Mar 15


When the flames had finally been extinguished, the charred equipment towed away and the unrecognizable remains of the laborer collected by the coroner, only then could the painstaking work of reconstructing what had happened begin. Their work day had started like any other with a bit of good-natured banter among the crew. It was only later, during the investigation, that someone recalled one of the crew asking if anyone had contacted the utility locator service. They recalled the question, but nobody seemed to remember if it had been answered. According to the investigation team, that little oversight was the key piece that caused an explosion that killed a twenty-nine year old man who had been married for three years and was about to become a father for the first time. It destroyed a $175,000 piece of equipment, put a contractor out of business and threw an important sewer job well off schedule. Investigators concluded that a single phone call could have avoided the whole thing. About two months after this accident there was a meeting with a major insurer of excavating contractors. They were interested in a safety training system being developed for utility contractors that made this often difficult training chore seem practically painless. They discussed statistics that plainly proved there greatest losses came from utility disruptions, not workers' compensation claims. They reviewed an accident report about a contractor who was installing a natural gas line in an overhead transmission right-of-way. In one year backhoe operators had struck the overhead line ten times. Amazingly enough no one had been killed. The average cost of each strike had been $70,000. That's about $700,000 the insurance company had to settle on that one account in a single year. The insurer cut their losses and dropped the account. It's unknown if the contractor was able to get coverage from someone else at a vastly increased price or if they went self insured or out-of-business. What is known is those repeat accidents of that type are avoidable, through planning and training.

Documented proof: Safety is a competitive advantage A study by the Construction Industry Institute found that contractors who achieve a "zero injury" rate had several things in common. The study looked at 25 different projects with as few as 200,000 and as many as 6.3 million work hours. The common denominators were:

  1. Pre-project planning for safety and setting goals

  2. Selecting and empowering safety personnel

  3. Policies for consistent, verifiable formal safety training

  4. Implement and promote a safety incentive program

  5. Accident investigation and analysis leading to real action The "zero injury" effect went directly to the contractor's bottom line. Their insurance modifier rate was, in most cases, less than 1. They found insurers bidding for their business, instead of having to shop around for a company to take it at a price dictated by the insurer. They did not have to devote personnel to providing attorneys with data required for defense litigation. OSHA spent little, if any time, examining everything they did. Productivity went up while costs went down. And best of all, they could be more competitive in bidding situations because they did not have to consider such high fixed overhead costs. They also seemed to enjoy an enviable reputation in their respective trades.

And now for the sad part The sad part of this is that this type of situation is available to contractors of any size, not just the bigger ones who seem to have the resources to develop it. Affordable safety training programs in a kit - an "expert in a box," if you will - are available from companies like VISTA Training. Most include complete testing and training records. Now any contractor can afford to do verifiable training every single month of the year. And every single month is about what it takes to constantly reinforce the safety message and let your people know that you're serious about this subject. It is only when management gets serious about training that it will happen. It's a sad fact that, according to studies done by unions and some independent operators training schools, 87 percent of the construction equipment operators in the United States have never had any formal operator training. They may be good operators who could skin a deer with a knife taped to the bucket of their backhoe. But that doesn't make them safe operators. They learned their skills by surviving mistakes. Or sometimes by watching or hearing about someone else who was injured or killed. Quite often their father or good old "Uncle Charlie" or some friend let them run the machine when they were a kid. They may have developed bad safety habits, and no one has ever taken the time to correct them. A state of California study indicated that 95% of equipment operation accidents occurred to operators classified as "experienced."  Why? Because bad work habits, complacency, overconfidence, inattention and failure to re-train as technology changed. The real tragedy is that every one of those reasons is correctable.

What the best contractors know about safety Good contractors recognize the bottom-line importance of training and make a commitment to hold regularly scheduled training for their equipment operators. Those are the contractors that are so tough to beat on some of these bids. It's not magic, it's just good business. And it's available to anyone, regardless of their size, at affordable prices. What is not acceptable is going out of business because of operating costs that have been driven up because of avoidable accidents. Check out the complete line of VISTA's operator safety training products

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