1.    Setting the scene

A safe, healthy working environment is a crucial factor in an individual’s quality of life and luckily there are a lot of regulations to ensure the health and safety of workers. However, when tight deadlines approach, these regulations are much too often neglected, resulting in non-fatal, as well as fatal injuries or illnesses. It's natural to want to get the job finished on schedule, or even ahead of time, but with a "get it done quick" attitude, accidents happen. Needing to get a piece of maintenance work done before your work Christmas party, or a production rush to get an order out before the New Year, would be prime examples of situations that can contribute to workplace accidents or near-misses.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) states that every day, people die as a result of occupational accidents or work-related diseases (more than 2.78 million deaths per year). Additionally, there are some 374 million non-fatal work-related injuries and illnesses each year, many of these resulting in extended absences from work. The human cost of this daily adversity is vast, and the economic burden of poor occupational safety and health practices is estimated at 3.94 percent of global Gross Domestic Product each year.[1] Data also reveals that youth are 40 percent more likely to suffer work-related injury and illness, than older workers.

In the European Union in 2014, there were close to 3.2 million non-fatal accidents that resulted in at least four calendar days of absence from work and 3,739 fatal accidents. A ratio of approximately 850 non-fatal accidents for every fatal one.[2]

Health and safety systems differ across Europe in recording, reporting and enforcement. The European statistical office (Eurostat) publishes data in as standardized a form as possible. When looking at the Eurostat statistics of 2014, the United Kingdom has the lowest incidence rate of fatal injury at work (0.55 per 100,000 employees) and Lithuania, Bulgaria and Romania have the highest incidence rates (3.5 per 100,000 employees). France has a high incidence rate (3.14 per 100,000 employees) and Germany has a fairly low incidence rate (0.81 per 100,000 employees). The EU average is 1.8 per 100,000 employees.[3]

Even though safer machines and safer workplace related rules have been set up in the past decades, there is a disturbing increase in work-related fatal accidents. Technological advances might have reduced the

probability of accidents, but if one does occur, the potential scale of a catastrophe is markedly higher.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) states that every day, people die as a result of occupational accidents or work-related diseases (more than 2.78 million deaths per year).

For example, in Belgium there were 66 deaths in 2016 [4] and there were 70 deaths in the Netherlands (19 more than in 2015).[5] In Singapore, 66 workers died in workplace accidents in 2015, compared to 60 the year before.[6] Northern Ireland also reported a sharp increase in the number of fatal accidents in their annual statistics of 2015. The number went up from 8 to 23 in a year. These are employees that pay the ultimate price for an often-unnecessary mistake. 

These numbers are concerning, but the festive/end-of-year period in many countries is a time to step up the awareness efforts to promote health and safety at the workplace even more...

 

2.    A special focus on the holiday season

The holiday season is an exciting time of year, but it is also dangerous. Unfortunately, there often is an increase in the number of injuries during this period. It is important that workers are careful not to let their guards down.

In the run up to Christmas many workplaces are open longer hours and recruit temporary workers which means there is a sudden increase of new people who might not be familiar with an organization’s working practices. However, it’s important to remember that temporary workers should receive exactly the same level of health and safety training as everyone else at the facility.

The Festive Season also brings a general feel-good factor to most workplaces as employees begin to relax and wind down for the Christmas holidays, which can mean people take their eye off the ball when it comes to safety. To compound matters lots of employers will also carry out maintenance work over the Christmas period which often leads to hazards and other dangers being present in workplaces at this time of year.[7]

Also, as people rush to finish their holiday shopping, traffic on the roads and highways becomes increasingly congested. For workers employed in the transportation industry, the heavy traffic puts them at added risk of an accident. Commuters and people who drive for a living must be sure to stay aware of their surroundings and drive safely to avoid accidents.[8]

 

3.    Financial and non-financial costs, not only for the company

From a corporate perspective, accidents disrupt production, thus increasing costs and sometimes undermining the organization’s morale or reputation. Not only can these injuries put employees at risk of hospitalization, or even death, it an also impact insurance rates.

Serious accidents can lead to, and legally require, temporary site shutdowns until an external authority gives permission to re-open. It can also lead to loss of equipment or the facility itself.

Occupational injuries and illnesses not only have direct economic costs, there are also broader consequences such as an impact on injured workers’ families, coworkers and the community. The true cost of workplace accidents is the pain and suffering of workers and their families, the tragedy of wrecked lives.

In addition to the social and human costs of health problems and fatalities, the cumulative economic burden caused by a lack of wellness at work is enormous for both businesses and the global economy. This is especially true when productivity losses are added to direct medical expenses.

Work accidents and fatalities are felt immediately, and thus requires good safety risk management practices. The most successful companies usually have the best accident prevention records.[9]

More effective accident prevention would not only reduce costs but also boost productivity.

 

4.    Some industries are more susceptible to accidents

While workers across virtually all industries assume some level of risk in the workplace, those in specific industries, and those who hold particular job titles within those industries, are far more likely to suffer a serious injury, illness or even death while working.

For example, the construction sector. This is mainly because of the intrinsically hazardous nature of this work, the challenging locations of construction sites, changing work environments and high rates of staff turnover. There are also health problems associated with building activities, such as musculoskeletal disorders and exposure to hazardous substances, such as asbestos.

Did you know that construction workers are three times as likely to be killed and twice as likely to be injured as workers in other industries? These risks could be substantially cut through a combination of hazard assessment, ‘good housekeeping’, training and better personal protective equipment.[10]

For example, a roofer carries out a risky task. Roofing is an inherently dangerous profession, which is why it is critical that those in this industry receive proper training and wear appropriate protective gear to avoid becoming part of the statistic. It is entirely too easy to fall when working on roofs with varying pitches and heights, and these falls frequently lead to broken bones, back injuries, puncture wounds and related injuries, many of which require expensive medical treatment and care.

Secondly, in the industrial sector, falls from elevated plant and machinery or overhead equipment, falls associated with uncontrolled releases of vapor and gas, for example are recurrent accidents, sometimes leading to a fatal ending.

Ongoing regulatory compliance is imperative, including regular compliance assessments or audits in facilities to make sure everything is up-to-date.

Thirdly, in agriculture, falls from agricultural equipment, elevated storage and processing activities are also dangerous for workers.

Lastly, the transportation sector is susceptible to accidents. Car accidents are the most common cause of work-related death. Transportation is expanding tremendously, conveying much larger volumes of people and goods, leading to a severe risk of fatal accidents. Some of these die on the road, others on companies’ premises, for example when lorries reverse, or loads fall off fork-lift trucks. And these are ‘just’ the fatalities. Many thousands more are injured.

 

5.    Preventive action is imperative

The best way to reduce accidents in the workplace is to be proactive with prevention. Health and safety should be at the top of every professional's priority list. Controlling health and safety in the workplace means supplying the proper equipment, training and instructions to all employees.

When workers are well-trained, competent and confident, they tend to make fewer mistakes and have fewer accidents. Providing safety awareness as well as risk/activity-focused refresher training is necessary at all levels of the health and safety management hierarchy. Appropriate training is a requirement across all levels of an organization, and is a fundamental component of developing a credible safety culture.

Employers should ensure that all employees are given the proper personal protective equipment, but also make sure they are properly adapted to each individual. For example, if a helmet is too big, it won’t do much in terms of safety.

All good accident prevention plans begin with a risk assessment. Once a list of probable risks has been compiled, they need to be prioritized in order of severity, and appropriate measures to eliminate or control them must be decided upon. It is not only important to implement and keep records of the measures, but it is also necessary to ensure the procedures are monitored and reviewed, with regular intervals.

No safety and health programs can be successful without the help and active interest of the entire staff, workers and executives of the organizations. Their support plays a key role in promoting safety and health program and preventing accidents at the workplace. Hence their involvement is very essential. Managerial leadership can do much in this regard. Leaders must motivate their subordinates and workers working under them to actively participate in safety programs to make them a success.[11]

Health and safety management should be implemented on a day-to-day basis. Ongoing regulatory compliance is imperative, including regular compliance assessments or audits in facilities to make sure everything is up-to-date. This will help your company to avoid terrible surprises.

In the unfortunate case that an accident occurs, it is paramount to set up a report, which investigates the accident and investigates how it could have been prevented, including necessary recommendations for the future. A company can learn from previous mistakes and upgrade the health and safety mechanisms for the better.

 

6.    In conclusion: safety is a basic human right and should never be neglected

There are a lot of regulations to comply with regarding the health and safety of workers – and they can vary greatly across different countries. However, when tight deadlines approach, these regulations are often no longer considered to be a priority.

It is a basic human right to return home safely from work; nobody should be killed or harmed in occupational accidents. Until we reach this position, there will still be work to be done in the field of accident prevention.

In addition to the social and human costs of health problems and fatalities, the cumulative economic burden caused by a lack of wellness at work is enormous for both businesses and the global economy. This is especially true when productivity losses are added to direct medical expenses.

It is good practice to inspect your facilities regularly with the safety coordinator, to make certain that all staff is following safety policies at work, while checking areas that are of concern and ensuring that precautions have been met. Ongoing regulatory compliance can help your company achieve this goal.

Together, with extra precautions, we can stop the rise of occupational injuries during this festive time. Enhesa wishes you a safe and compliant Holiday Season!

 

[3]European Comparisons, Summary of UK performance, p. 2, http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/european/european-comparisons.pdf .

[4] Elke week een dode op het werk, De Standaard, 25/11/2017, http://m.standaard.be/cnt/dmf20171124_03206336/ .

[5] Meer dodelijke ongevallen op het werk, Arbo-unie, 18/05/2017, https://www.arbounie.nl/werkgever/nieuws/meer-dodelijke-ongevallen-op-het-werk .

[6] Workplace fatalities rise in 2015 as more workers fall from heights, Channel New Asia, 10/04/2016, http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/workplace-fatalities-rise-in-2015-as-more-workers-fall-from-heig-8143830 .

[7] Workplace accidents increase at Christmas, 2013,  http://www.fmonline.co.uk/news-article/Workplace-Accidents-Increase-At-Christmas/ .