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Reporting accidents

Leigh W Sparrow, Publisher
Leigh W Sparrow, Publisher

June 16, 2012 - The subject of the reporting of accidents and the sharing of lessons learnt was a hot topic at the annual IPAF Summit in March, with many members feeling that the it should be a mandatory condition of membership.

That policy proposal was not adopted, although the organisation has launched its online accident reporting database and is actively encouraging members to sign up voluntarily. To this end IPAF is looking for members to sign pledges to report all accidents at the upcoming Vertikal Days.

In many countries the reporting of accidents is a mandatory requirement under health and safety regulation. Although not all companies follow this, especially if there are no injuries – in many jurisdictions they are within their rights to do so. However such incidents - along with ones where people are injured - are a valuable aid to improving safety, far more so than the long winded arbitrary prosecutions that are more often the norm. Prosecutions, at least in Europe, often require valuable life saving accident investigation information - or evidence as it is considered to be - to be kept secret while the authorities  dither over the decision over whether to prosecute or not.  

Meanwhile many contractors - often including the very same ones who seek all the safety certification and awards - do their very best to contain information on accidents or near misses – sometimes even suppress it. This includes clearing people off site, ensuring that photographs are not taken and making sure that ‘trouble makers’/potential whistle blowers are fired.

While such action might seem immoral, it is effectively encouraged by government and some large private developers which look at a company’s ‘safety’ record when making decisions on the awarding of contracts, so it pays to ‘cover up’ any near misses or non-injury incidents.

And yet the safety authorities the world over know pretty well the range of ‘near misses’ or non reportable incidents that occur on average. It is amazing that if you look at such statistics on paper, the aviation industry is far more accident prone than most construction sites – although its overall safety record when measured in terms of injuries and fatalities, is substantially lower – how can that be?

Andy Studdert of rental company NES made a first rate presentation at the same IPAF Summit talking about his time as chief operating officer of United Airlines. He made the point that that any aviation incident – no matter how minor is not only reported but publicised in the media- “even politicians get less exposure” he said. “However it has made the industry significantly safer”.

He has now brought the same philosophy into the access business as chief executive of NES, the big US based rental company. He made the point that after a couple of incidents after he started, in which amazingly no one was injured, he was “fed up with needing to be lucky” and accelerated the move towards aviation type openness. The key to the change is that every employee is fully involved and that “communication is totally open and honest   - no secrets”.

The fact is that the open sharing of information on all incidents – including those that involve injuries and those that don’t, would do more to improve overall safety than any other single or collection of measures.

Changing government’s view on this will be slow however in the meantime it could be led by the industry itself. If associations such as ESTA, IPAF, SC&RA, DLA, EWPA, CICA, CPA, ALLMI, PASMA, AED, NASC and the hundreds of other associations with rental company members would make it a mandatory requirement along with contractor’s associations it would make a massive difference in a short space of time. If each organisation coupled it with the ability for anonymous reporting and that any member who had not reported an incident within a pre-specified time limit was stuck off – imagine how quickly things would change.

At the same time a change in major contract procurement and the appointment of sub-contractors to one that required the completely open reporting of accident and near miss records, to the point where unrealistic near-miss/ zero incident claims were treated as suspiciously as companies with high incident rates, the whole culture would rapidly change for the better.

  

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