ACCIDENT PREVENTION K. G. DESAI* Introduction This article...
This article proposes to discuss the plication of this belief is that accidents
problem of accident prevention. There is cannot be prevented. However, now-a-days
no need to convince the reader about the it is accepted that 'Accidents do not just
importance of this problem. If one cares happen; they are caused — caused by hu-
to look at the 'accident statistics' publish-
man beings. This latter outlook is certainly
ed by central and state governments, one more sensible than the former because
can get information about number of ac-
it would at least compel the researchers
cidents, the types of accidents, number of to think about the possibility of prevent-
man-days lost, and so on and so forth. ing some accidents, if not all. But along
Similarly, there is no need to paint a grim with this proper outlook on the nature
picture of the various unpleasant con-
of accidents, many managements have
sequences of accidents in order to bring somehow become enamoured of safety
out the importance of the need to prevent campaigns as the preventive measure for
accidents. The million-dollar question is accidents.
'how to prevent accidents?' Our govern-
ments (central and state) and the manage-
Safety Campaigns
ments have realised its importance and
in their own light of understanding are
Safety campaigns may assume various
trying their best to prevent accidents. And forms. Managements celebrate safety
yet accidents continue to occur, almost weeks; they may organise safety slogan
unabatedly. Hence, there is a lingering contests or safety poster contests. They'
suspicion that we might be going in the may display accident-free periods; they may
wrong direction. So let us try to re-think have safety awards. All these devices have
about the whole issue and consider the one common element—they all serve to
problem of accident-prevention with an arouse safety consciousness amongst the
open mind.
employees. And these managements have
made an implicit assumption that em-
ployees get involved in accidents because
Definition of an Accident
they are not sufficiently convinced about
An accident is defined as an unexpected the importance of safety. So they con-
event resulting in damage to machines tinue to believe that once they are able
and/or human beings. Usually an acci-
to convince their employees about the
dent would result in loss of production need to work safely, the employees will
time. Many researchers used to believe not resort to unsafe procedures of work
that accidents just happen. Implicit in and then many accidents can be prevented.
such a belief is the fatalistic outlook viz., This logic is faulty. Many of our em-
however hard one may try, accidents ployees may be illiterate or semi-literate
would continue to happen. Another im-
but they certainly know what is advan-
* Dr. K. G. Desai is Head of the Department of Personnel Management and Labour
Welfare, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Deonar, Bombay 400 088.

tageous to them. When an accident takes point of view of studying accidents. Such
place, the employees still continue to be forms in studying accidents are quite in-
the worst sufferers. Therefore, it may be adequate for the 'preventive' study of
assumed that no sensible employee wants accidents.
to get involved in accidents. There is no
The American Standards Association
need for managements to convince him has evolved an excellent format to re-
that in his own interest he should work cord and study accidents from this preven-
safely. He is already convinced about this tive point of view. These can be very
and yet accidents do take place creating conveniently used by organisations to
unpleasant consequences for those em-
study accidents. Using a proper form for
ployees who get involved in them. The studying accidents is the first step in
reasons for employees' getting involved studying accidents. The managements
in accidents lie elsewhere. And the should make this purpose clear to the
managements will have to search for these employees. When the employees realise
in order to think of preventive measures. that by studying accidents the manage-
ment intends to penalise some of them,
Accident Report Forms
they would certainly try to conceal the
vital information. They may give distorted
To unearth these reasons the organisa-
information which is of not much use to
tions must study the accidents properly managements for the purpose of preventing
and thoroughly. It is here that the main accidents. So the managements have to
problem begins. Many managements have make sincere efforts to communicate this
not even bothered to evolve proper forms purpose of studying accidents. Only when
to study accidents. The forms that they the employees are convinced about this,
use to record accidents primarily serve they may be willing to give the manage-
the legal purpose. The Factories Act ex-
ments the useful and vital information.
pects the managements to report all 're-
This is the first step that managements
portable' accidents. The government has can take to prevent accidents in their
evolved some format for filing the returns. organisations. The study of accidents can
And many of our organisations continue be a joint venture of personnel depart-
to use the same forms to record accidents. ments and industrial engineers. The for-
The Government uses this information to mer can concentrate on eliciting informa-
collect and compile accident statistics tion from human beings whereas the lat-
which are published in their gazettes. ter can study involvement of machines
Such forms are hopelessly inadequate if and faulty procedures of work.
we want to study the accidents in order
to prevent them.
Role of First Line Supervisors
There are some other organisations
which believe that many accidents (espe-
Another important step in the prevention
cially those which involve serious damage of accidents is the involvement of first
to costly machinery and equipments) are line supervisors in the prevention pro-
acts of sabotage on the part of the em-
grammes. The first line supervisors are in
ployees. And their purpose in studying ac-
direct contact with the operative and can
cidents is to identify the culprits in order play a vital role in preventing accidents.
to penalise them. This is another legal But in the managements' efforts at har-

anguing the employees in not getting in-
titudes of the managements towards safety.
volved in accidents and in organising And curiously some of these managements
various safety campaigns they seem to would spend huge sums of money on
have forgotten the importance of these safety campaigns.
little men.
There are instances where employees
The first-line supervisors have ample refuse to use safety equipments and mana-
opportunities to observe the operatives in gements tacitly ignore these infringements.
action. They are knowledgeable as to whe-
Here again supervision can go a long way
ther the operatives are following the pro-
to ensure that employees use the safety
per procedures of work or not. They also equipments. All these little precautions can
know whether the operatives are using the go a long way in preventing a large number
safety -equipments or not. They can spot of accidents. Cleanliness on shop-floor is
out such operatives. And of course they another such neglected area. Especially in
are in a position to 'correct' the work pro-
organisations manufacturing vegetable oil,
cedures of these operatives. Thus with the soap, etc., this is an important considera-
help of the first-line supervisors one can tion. All these abovementioned responsi-
prevent a large number of accidents. In bilities can be carried out by the first-line
organisations where more accidents are supervisors. This is why that first line
taking place the role played by first-line supervisors must be more involved in the
supervisors can be thoroughly investigated. accident prevention programmes.
Training of operatives is another neglect-
Maintenance of Machines
ed area. Supervisors can indicate to the
managements which operatives are using
Another contributor to accidents is lack wrong procedures of work. In the initial
of proper maintenance of machines and stages the operatives may be following
equipments. A periodical inspection of correct procedures of work but over a
machines and equipments can also be an period of time they discover some short-
important preventive measure. The Fac-
cuts. They at times fail to use safe pro-
tories Act has provided for various safety cedures because these appear to them as
provisions. Factories Inspectors are also more time consuming. Slowly but surely
expected to check up the machines and these unsafe procedures get set in and
equipments. But there are instances where then one day an accident may take place.
proper inspections are not carried out by The young operatives are more liable to
these officials. One hears of instances be involved in such accidents e.g. where
where the 'inspector' visits the organisation the wrong procedures of work adopted by
but never visits the shop-floor. The manage-
the employee are responsible for the acci-
ments are partly to be blamed for this. dent. When we are young we are more
They try to cover up their own shortcom-
inclined to believe in our own invinci-
ings by persuading the inspector not to bility. Safety precautions appear to quite
visit the shop-floor. But managements on a few young operatives as sort of 'old
their own initiative can periodically inspect maidish'. They have a peculiar carefree
their own machines and equipments. In attitude towards the work procedure. And
some organisations one comes across rusty this typical attitude may get them involv-
fire extinguishers and empty first aid boxes. ed in accidents. Again, it is a problem of
In a way these are indicative of wrong at-
supervision and training. A supervisor will

spot out these wrong procedures of work after a thorough research. The author be-
and proper training in proper procedures lieves that establishing accident-proneness
of work can take care of the problem. If in any individual is extremely difficult, if
necessary the employees may also be pena-
not impossible. After having eliminated
lised for following wrong procedures of the contribution of the 'failure of the
work or for failure to use safety equip-
machine', the fatigue effects and the role
ment. Operatives who persist in wrong of unexpected contingencies we will have
procedures of work will have to be re-
to establish the presence of accident-pron
trained in proper procedures of operating individuals. In practice, it is almost im-
the machines.
possible to establish accident proneness
All these little hints sound so ungla-
on the part of any individual. So it is
mourous but they play a very important better for the managements to concentrate
role in prevention of accidents. Unfor-
attention on other contributors to acci-
tunately, managements are so much ena-
dents and leave alone this elusive concept
moured of safety campaigns that they have of accident-proneness. This term has achi-
more or less neglected these vital contri-
eved quite a popularity amongst the laymen
butors to accidents.
and when accidents in an organisation
occur persistently, 'accident-proneness'
Accident Proneness
becomes the usual scapegoat. A layman is
apt to over-look the distinction between
Still another glamorous idea that has the concept used as a descriptive device
captured the imagination of managements and the concept used as an explanatory
is that of 'Accident Proneness'. When safety device. And because of this confusion in
campaigns fail to make any impact on the minds of the laymen (and some social
number of accidents, managements seem scientists too) one is likely to be misled
to choose another scapegoat — the pre-
by this concept. It is better for all concern-
sence of so-called accident-prone em-
ed that we forget the concept of accident-
polyees. They would clamour for the re-
proneness as a solution to the problem of
moval of these so-called accident-prone accident-prevention.
employees so as to reduce the number of
accidents. Let us try to see what this term Summary
implies. The meaning of the term accident-
proneness is — the tendency on the part of
To sum up, managements would cer-
the individual to get involved in accidents tainly be able to reduce the number of
repeatedly. The underlying assumption is accidents in any organisation. Manage-
that this individual has some personality ments will have to begin with proper and
characteristics in him which make him regular inspection' of the machines. They
liable to get involved in accidents. This will have to use their supervisors as per-
description of accident-proneness appears sons who can keep the operatives under
to be deceptively simple. But it raises close observation (esp. those operatives
some interesting queries. Will such a per-
who have started their work recently. The
son get involved in any kind of accident supervisors, if necessary, would instruct
anywhere or only in some specific kind the operatives in the proper procedures of
of accident in specific situation? The an-
work and also penalise the infringements
swer to this query can be discovered only of the rules for operating the machines,

etc. The organisation can consciously through various safety programmes. The
strive to maintain congenial working envi-
safety programmes do have a place in the
ronment (lighting, ventilation, etc.) and problem of prevention of accidents. But
take extra precautions in case of workers a more important role is played by pro-
doing strenuous work and also avoid per study of accidents, the training of
'fatigue' in workers. These are the pre-
workers, the constant supervision and the
ventive devices to reduce accidents.
maintenance and periodical inspection of
The organisation will study the acci-
the machines. So is the role of congenial
dents thoroughly with a view to avoid working environment and avoidance of
future accidents and not with an aim of fatigue in workers. The latter are certainly
penalising the culprit. The organisation more important than the safety pro-
can also seek co-operation from the em-
gramme. Let us, therefore, not make the
ployees and their unions in preventing mistake of putting the cart before the
accidents. This task can be achieved horse.
Chapnis Alphonso
Research Techniques in Human Engineering, Baltimore, Johns
Hopkins Press.
Eysenck, H. S.
Facts and Fiction in Psychology, Chapter on 'Accidents and
Personality', Penguin Publication.