Accidents and their Prevention KRISHNA CHANDRA MOOKERJEE ACCORDING to...
Accidents and their Prevention
ACCORDING to the dictionary the word concerning what was heretofore considered
'accident' means 'a mishap', 'an as more or less a gift of chance and they
unexpected event proceeding from an thus paved the way for future workers in
unknown cause', 'a chance event', 'event this field. The facts they discovered have
without apparent cause', 'unexpected act,' since been recognised as the fundamental
'unintentional act', etc. If we accept any facts about accident causation. Once the
of these connotations it would not only make
diagnosis was correctly made it did not take
an objective approach to the problem of the investigators long to suggest proper
accidents impossible but render us indiffer-
preventive and curative measures. The real
ent to preventive measures that may have difficulty lay in the task of successfully
to be adopted to ward them off. Such an analysing the so-called elusive event, acci-
attitude betrays a lack of elementary scienti-
dent and once t h a t was done prevention
fic training of the mind; what is still followed as a matter of course.
worse, it reveals lamentable ignorance
It may not be out of place to mention
of the etiology of accidents. No doubt, here that theoretically speaking even such
accidents cannot be often studied under an abstract factor as 'chance' has not been
strictly prescribed laboratory conditions ; left out of scientific study and analysis on
neither is it conceivable to bring the con-
the ground that it is apparently unanalys-
ditions of causation of each and every able or uncontrollable or beyond the scope
accident under control so much so t h a t a of laboratory experimentation. On the other
particular accident can be repeated, as is hand, mathematics has adequately solved the
possible in the case of some physical phe-
problem by logically analysing the so-called
nomena in the domain of Physics, Chemis-
chance and its effects on matter and mind.
t r y , and such other basic sciences. But that It has also formulated some well defined
should not be considered as a sufficient laws governing the apparently fortuitous
evidence to prove t h a t the problem of behaviour of chance. We shall discuss in the
accident causation is beyond the purview of
course of this article the findings, including
scientific investigation. The correct method the recent ones, of the investigators in this
of dealing with such phenomena would be field and examine the problem of accident
to find out the limitations under which they prevention in the light of their discoveries
are to be investigated and proceeded with. and recommendations.
Unfortunately the subject did not receive
Problem Stated.—For a scientific study
adequate consideration till psychologists of the problem of accident causation it is
recently brought their heads together for a important to keep in mind the two types of
scientific study of this problem and suggest-
accidents usually met with in nature :
ed possible remedial measures. Soon after
(1) The first type relates to street
the beginning of the present century, some accidents, i.e., those caused by motor, tram,
scientists, mostly psychologists, refused to train, etc., and are taken to be the inevit-
be guided by the popular meaning of the able consequences of the march of civiliza-
word and started studying carefully the so-
tion. Within this class are included by far
called unexpected event, accident, and the largest number of accidents occurring in
tracing all relevant facts about its causation. any modern city or town and also cases
After years of fruitful research these in-
arising out of a sudden fall, sudden collapse
vestigators discovered many pertinent facts of a building, or, as happened recently in

Bombay, and still more recently in the port remaining eight, though threatened with
of Chicago in U . S . A . , sudden severe explo-
presumably the same danger from outside,
sion accompanied by monstrous fire. Such were able to cross and go to the other side ?
accidents receive little attention of people Or let us again consider the cases of acci-
except some lip sympathy because, by circum-
dents which are of late occurring in the
stances and by accident, they are made help-
suburban section of the B. B. & C. I. and
less witnesses of such tragic happenings. In G. I. P. railways in Bombay due to what
this connection it would be somewhat in-
has since been found to be overcrowding
teresting to note the legal view of the in the local trains. Those who have recent-
problem. Almost everyday in the morning ly taken a trip in any of these suburban
on opening the daily newspaper we find trains know how many people usually travel
some inquest reports of the city coroner on on the foot-boards clinging to the iron bars
the body of one or more accident victims. at the doorways to the absolute discomfort
These reports, almost in all cases, are ex-
of other passengers. But contrary to our
pressed in a traditional form, namely, that expectation not all the persons travelling
an inquest was held on the body of such and
in that way at a particular moment drop
such a person and that the death was found to
down ; and not from all the doorways.
have been due to accidental causes. In such
Only one or two such persons out of the lot
investigations, what receives more attention have been found to slip off and fall down,
is the apparent cause of the death rather meeting with severe injuries which usually
than the circumstances which brought it prove fatal.
about ; and therefore these people do not
Instances of this sort can be multiplied
pursue the matter any further, little ima-
without in any way improving the prospect
gining that their analysis is not very sound. of finding a way out of such situations. How
This unscientific attitude is somewhat res-
can we account for such strange happenings?
ponsible for allaying peoples' curiosity in The usual explanations offered in such cases
the matter. Most people seem to believe take one of the following forms:—the un-
that such reports are final and that no useful fortunate man, of the first example, was
purpose would be served by further dragging
absent-minded ; he was probably having a
the matter. The death, according to them,
sensory defect and so could not see or hear
brings to a close the whole event. Speaking the obvious danger signal; he was careless; he
from one's sentiments there may be some was slow in his strides and movements, etc.
sort of justification for such an attitude; but Some people who seem to be wiser refuse to
looking at the problem in its proper per-
offer any plausible explanation whatsoever
spective such attitudes cannot be defended since, according to them, the word itself is
and they are highly detrimental to the pro-
self-explanatory. If there can at all be any
gress of science. A scientist can never be reasonable cause for it, why should the
satisfied with such meagre description of the occurrence be called an accident? Yet there
cause and effect. A concrete illustration is another type of explanation which is even
will bring home the point at issue. Suppos-
more ingenious than others of the kind and
ing at one time some eight people crossed can only be regarded as a fertile product of
successfully the Hornby Road at the point imagination. This type of explanation
opposite the V. T. station clock tower, while
virtually rings down the curtain over the
the ninth pedestrian met with an accident, incident by suggesting that the man was
though all of them crossed under the same destined to meet with that accident, or that
objective circumstances, in the face of some
it was long before written on his forehead
external dangers. Why is it that only the that on such and such a date and at a speci-
ninth person met with accident while the fied time the man in question would meet

with an accident of the sort he has actually and characteristics of human beings, the
suffered. The conjectures do not seem to existence of which in individual cases pre-
stop there but take us a step further by disposes the organism to accidents or tends
suggesting that nothing could have been to make him 'accident prone'—a term gen-
done by way of preventing what was more erally used by industrial psychologists to
or less pre-ordained and therefore inevitable. describe such people. That some of the
According to the advocates of this view causes in an accident situation are inherent
some superhuman power arranges such in the very nature of the tasks or instruments
events for some of us occasionally and it and tools handled by the workers needs no
would be almost sinful on our part to try to elaboration; that certain tasks, more than
undo what is written there, meaning the others, involve risk and danger to the indivi-
forehead region. Such sterile explanations duals can also be readily conceded to; but
do not lead us anywhere; nor do the attitudes what is really difficult to comprehend in the
revealed therein suggest any fresh clue absence of the 'human factor hypothesis' is
to a scientific explanation of accidents. that even after a careful elimination of all
While appreciating the originality of these possible external sources of danger t h a t
explanations one cannot but be surprised might theoretically follow, cases of accidents
to find the amount of fantastic element un-
though not to the extent and rate obtaining
necessarily, and perhaps unknowingly too, before still occur. To an untrained eye the
introduced into the concept and for which human factor or personal element involved
there can be very little justification.
in an accident may not be quite apparent
(2) The second type of accidents refers but one cannot go a long way in the study
to those that occur in industries and indus-
of accident causation and ignore these.
rial concerns and are denoted by the name Merely pointing out that a particular work
'Industrial Accidents'. In this group of involved risk and danger, or that certain
accidents the external causes, besides being working conditions induce accidents or
somewhat limited in number and unlike increase the incidence rate is to say the least
those discussed under (1) above, are more or about them.
less well-defined so far as their applicability
Psychologists came into the field when
in a particular situation is concerned. In-
the whole atmosphere relating to accident
dustrial accidents may be generally said to causation was practically saturated with such
result from three sources : firstly from lack beliefs and superstitions. They had, there-
of adequate safegards about the machines fore, to break considerable new ground
(the nature of these safeguards has been dis-
before they could treat the problem scienti-
cussed in detail under 'Preventive Measures' fically. Carelessness which has much to
below); secondly from a large number of
recommend it as a plausible explana-
external factors, such as, bad ventilation, tion, and which even now is held in
bad illumination, unusual atmospheric tem-
certain quarters as one of the main causes of
perature, etc., over which the worker has accidents, was found to be no better than a
practically no control; and thirdly from smoke screen interfering with the progres
those factors that are to be found in the
of the scientific study of the problem. The
worker himself, i.e., the individual factors psychologists next examined the claim of
as a direct consequence to the existence of 'chance hypothesis' to explain the accident
individual differences which have their cases, but concluded that it cannot be
origin in the constitution of the germ plasm
regarded either adequate or appropriate;
of the human organism. The last source is
since the distribution curves of accident
the most important from psychological view rates do not possess all the important
point since here we find certain peculiarities characteristics of the well known 'Gussian

Curve'. Leaving aside its mathematical con-
problem in its many settings was begun only
notation of possibility or probability, the in the beginning of the present century.
word 'chance' stands for some given unknown The problem at first was tackled, though not
or unanalysed forces. Even in so called to one's absolute satisfaction, by those who
typical chance experiments, e.g., throwing were closely connected with industrial orga-
of the dice or coins, it has been shown nisations and national welfare of a country.
t h a t the faces or sides lying upward in a The search for appropriate measures to
particular throw are the result of the various prevent accidents was begun when respons-
complex forces acting upon them. How-
ible persons realised that industries in gen-
ever, from the mass of materials available eral have a direct bearing and influence on
in the form of popular explanations which the economic condition of the worker and
have been offered from time to time in this his family. But their efforts, without bring-
field to cover up new cases of accidents oc-
ing about the much needed orientation in
curring frequently as a sequel to the changed the general outlook, were confined in most
transport and other conditions, as well as cases to the finding of some rough and
from the results of their further enquiry ready, easy and cheap method for the pre-
into the phenomenon, these investigators vention of accidents. Cases are not infre-
discerned that there is a personal element in quent where the accident met by a particular
all these occurrences, and the amount of that man has resulted in the ultimate economic
element varied from individual to individual ruin of his whole family by bringing un-
and also in the same individual for the differ-
timely death and destitution to his depend-
ent periods of time and life. They further ants. There are instances of a more pathetic
contended that the objective situation also nature; and it may be said without any hesi-
not infrequently determines the amount and tation that the ultimate responsibility for
quality of this personal element to be called such upsetting of the economic and social
into play in a particular setting. This is a structures automatically falls on the employ-
significant discovery leading up as it did to ers who do not perhaps adequately realize
a further study and understanding of the the consequences of their indifference in the
problem in different settings. Little did the matter. Hence it is but natural that such
people who naively offered some make-
people would be genuinely interested in the
believe explanations of accident causation successful solution of the problem. Happily
know that some day these very explanations for the workers the entire outlook has in
would be construed to mean such things as recent years been considerably changed and
human factor, personal element, etc. There the pendulum of popular opinion has swung
is no hesitation in admitting that the germ too far in their favour. Industrialists and
of future scientific solution of the problem employers of industrial concerns need no
lay in those explanations ; for it has now longer be told that nothing but good will
been conclusively proved that a human come out of a movement for the control and
element—however apparently insignificant prevention of accidents. But the serious-
—can almost always be traced in practically ness of the problem, which in almost all
all cases of accidents and the two illustra-
countries has been sought to be solved, if
tions cited in (1) above are no doubt cases not wholly at least partially, by counteract-
in point.
ing the evil effects of accidents with com-
| Industrial Accidents.—The so-called ob-
pensatory laws, is not always correctly
jective causes and prevention (if possible) appraised. These compensatory laws, a
of industrial accidents formed a subject of brief description of which will be given later
considerable interest and attention even in have been enacted and enforced by the State
earlier days, but the scientific study of the or the Government of the land as a part of

their duty in the matter.
existence of various costs other than the
Apart from the fact that an almost direct ones, such as payment for adequate
criminal loss of human life and material medical treatment and insurance, expense
results from such accidents which cannot of selecting and training new men to take
be compensated even with the best of laws the place of those who have suffered acci-
enacted for the purpose, the loss sustained dents, cost of maintaining safety and wel-
by the members of the victim's family as fare departments which function with the
well as the loss to the industry and State object of preventing accidents and caring for
amounts, in terms of money, to a colossal the injured employees and their families.
sum. An approximate idea of this loss may Coupled with these, of course, is a possible
be had from the following roughly estimated lowering of the output which adds further to
figures available :—the number of accidents the cost of production. However the total
reported to the Home Office in Great Bri-
of all such costs and charges, computed
tain, in 1929, was 161,269—the correspond-
roughly as they are, has been found, as
ing figure for the previous year being reported by Heinrich, to be well over
154,319 (Annual Report of the Chief Inspec-
$5,000,000,000 in the United States for one
tor of Factories and Workshops for the year calendar year. Corresponding costs for
1929—H. M. Stationery Office). According other countries when computed on the above
to a report of the National Safety Council basis would no doubt reveal similar stag-
(Accident Facts, National Safety Council, gering figures.
Chicago, 1931, p. 5 ) , approximately 99,000
Huge as these figures are, it must be
people were killed by accidents in the remembered that they refer only to accidents
United States during 1930. This number of sufficient gravity to make them reportable
represented a death rate from accidents to the proper quarter according to the terms
alone of 80'4 per 100,000 population. In of the existing laws in this field. In the
1929, it was revealed that in the United absence of such laws it is doubtful if the
States the accident rate was second in rank subject would ever have received any serious
in a list of leading causes of death among attention whatsoever. Even then cases are
men, and eighth in rank in a similar list traceable where the employer has success-
prepared for women. Thus in these cases fully evaded the vigilance of the relevant
accidents got a prominent place in Vital laws by his tact and cleverness, thereby earn-
Statistics by considerably increasing the ing the appreciation of the management who
corresponding mortality ratio. One common would otherwise have had to pay some com-
feature in these figures is that the incidence pensation. Apart from such cases the
rate is much higher among men than factory administration reports do not take
women, which is as it should be, since in account of a type of accidents, the number
usual peace time the number of men em-
of which is in all probability still larger, but
ployed in different industries is considerably which are not sufficiently severe in nature
higher than the percentage of women. Such from the legal point of view but which
difference in the incidence rate of accidents nevertheless cause untold suffering to the
among the two sexes prevails in almost worker concerned and his family, as also
every country.
much waste of work-time for the manage-
ment. One investigator in this field reports
The figures cited above are all in terms that the non-notifiable accidents, meaning
of human lives but to further estimate them thereby those that are of a less severe
in existing exchange values, to arrive at a nature, are as much as 30 per cent more than
reasonable cost debitable to the exchequer, the notifiable ones. According to this same
is a difficult task; and the calculations of authority, to arrive at a reasonably depend-
such costs are further complicated by the

able estimate of the total number of acci-
out that the figures sampled therein should
dents caused in a particular industry, it is be computed on an all-India basis and for
necessary to multiply the reported figure by different industries so as to facilitate the
anything between 10 and 50, the actual task of comparison of the results. The
figure in a particular case being dependant reliability of such figures, however, as a sort
upon the nature of the trade in question, of dependable index for calculating the total
since the ratio between notifiable and non-
number of accidents, shall be more or less
notifiable accidents has always been found limited, as will appear from a perusal of
to vary in different trades and occupations. what has been said in an earlier section.
It may thus be concluded that the number The following are the chief findings of
of minor accidents in any industry is also the report so far as it relates to industrial
enormous and that such accidents, almost in accidents: —
all cases, entail severe suffering and cause
"Increased employment of workers,
temporary decline in the output and effici-
longer working hours, and employment of
ency of the worker.
semitrained and sometimes untrained per-
In India it is somewhat surprising to sonnel, are some of the factors responsible
note that regular statistics about the incid-
for an increase in the total number of acci-
ence rate of accidents in different industries dents in factories in British India from
in various localities were not available until 48,736 in 1941 to 54,174 in 1942. The fatal
recently. Even the bitterest critics would and serious accidents increased respectively
doubtless agree that statistics, when timely from 271 to 323 and from 8,374 to 9,111, and
computed and published—whatever may be the average per 100,000 operatives was
the intrinsic value of the figure it sums 2,374 as against 2,260 during the previous
up—facilitates enormously further discus-
y e a r " .
sion on a subject, and leads to the formula-
Methods of Prevention.—The suggestion
tion of ideas and policies and measures that about appropriate measure or measures, that
might be necessary to counter-effect certain can be adopted with advantage for the pre-
tendencies manifest in the tabulated data. vention of accidents of a particular type
But the authorities here have so far failed natuarlly pre-supposes a successful analy-
in their duties in this matter. The Annual sis of the internal and external situations
Report of the working of the Indian which give rise to accidents; and it is this
Factories Act in India during the year 1942, part of the task which earlier investigators
has been available to the public toward the could not solve. The position here is ana-
second half of the current year, 1944, i.e., logous to that of the general practitioners in
after more than one year and a half, which medicine. A physician, for instance, is
is rather amazing. Whatever might be the required to prescribe remedies for his
cause for this inordinate delay, one cannot patients' ailments for which he has quite a
fail to observe that such publications defeat large number of measures at his disposal.
the very purpose for which they are meant In any particular case he may prescribe one
and tend to bring down the importance of or more of these measures according to the
these reports to a ridiculously low level. need. But a suitable prescription is always
Dereliction of duties like this cannot be preceded by a correct diagnosis. This
defended during any period of time much diagnosis forms an integral part of the treat-
less in war time when a vast labour force ment which he may subsequently adopt and
has been employed to cope with the ever almost always involves a very careful con-
increasing demands on the different indus-
sideration of the nature of the disease or
tries of the country. So far as the forms of
ailment and the possible cause thereof.
these reports are concerned it may be pointed After he has successfully determined these

two things he would apply his mind and cally proved by the psychologists during the
energies to finding out a suitable and most second quarter of the present century. The
effective remedy for the purpose. Thus the first approach failed to discover this im-
success of a physician in his treatment is portant human factor in the accident causa-
very much conditioned by the reliability tion and as a result, the remedies suggested
and validity of his diagnosis. Similarly in by it have more or less proved to be of
the case of accident prevention, it is the limited value and application as will be
cause of the accident that has to be properly evident from the following section.
and carefully analysed before arriving at
In accordance with the first method of
any specific remedy. Only when a clear and tackling with the problem the remedies are
objective picture of the occurrence has been embodied in the factory regulations. Almost
obtained can effective recommendations to every civilized State has laid down certain
prevent a recurrence of such conditions be statutory requirements with regard to its
industries for the purpose of protecting the
So far there are two different approaches lives of its workers. These requirements
to the problem of finding out suitable have since been called Factory Acts and
remedial measures. One of these concerns Regulations and generally include among
itself with the study of accidents with re-
others, The W o r k m e n ' s Compensation Act
ference to external factors influencing and Rules, The Industrial Disputes Acts and
persons in general, irrespective of their Rules, The Payment of Wages Act and
personal qualities and traits ; and the Rules, The Maternity Benefit Act and Rules,
remedial measures according to it imply, in etc. Though these regulations individually
some cases at least, voluntary or conscious fall much short of the actual needs in the
control of such extraneous factors and con-
matter, they have on the whole really
ditions by the individuals themselves. The reduced the number of Industrial accidents
practical application of the foregoing prin-
by compelling the employers, amongst other
ciple has taken the form of enforcement of things, to conform to some set standards for
certain regulations or adoption of some the working of the different plants and
safety devices, or both, the precise nature machineries so as to ensure adequate safety
of these having to be determined carefully to the lives of the workers. Little doubt is
according to the needs of the situation. In entertained now-a-days about the efficacy of
the second approach accidents are studied such rules and regulations ; and if the mea-
to find out how far they are affected by sures are strictly enforced they would be
factors affecting the same group of individu-
able to reduce the workers' liability to
als differently though these individuals are accidents in general to the level of an abso-
presumably subjected to the same physical lute minimum. The provisions under these
environment at the time of the accident. The laws and regulations have been found to
remedies according to this view are based differ somewhat in different countries; but
on the principle that they lie virtually out-
this can be explained as due to the condi-
side the domain of activities usually regard-
tions of work and industry being not iden-
ed as consciously or voluntarily controllable tical in all places. Furthermore these laws
by human organisms. This lime of approach enacted, as they must be, during a certain
has resulted in more success as it has finally period of a country's industrial development
led to the formulation of the now famous may not be considered adequate or even
'Human Factor Hypothesis' in the explana-
appropriate at a later stage because of the
tion of accident causation. The techniques widely changed industrial atmosphere that
and measures that are followed according to might be prevailing afterwards. Hence
it, have been carefully evolved and scientifi-
arises the necessity of periodically re*