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Occupational Safety: Causes of Accidents

The causes of accidents have continued to hit various debates for many years already. There are some theories explaining the causes of accidents including the domino theory, combination or multiple causation theory, incident theory, epidemiological theory, human factor or error theory, and systems theory. Some people argue that accidents are a result of combination of different factors (combination theory) while some assure that accidents are caused by unsafe activities of certain individuals and acts of God (the domino theory). The combinations can be categorized according to different features, for example, behavioral or environmental factors. The domino theory postulates that accidents occur due to ancestry, as well as social environments, worker’s fault, unsafe actions that cause damage or injury. The theory asserts that the removal of one domino of the row will result in an interruption of the sequence and can prevent the accident or injury (Dekker, 2013). However, the human error theory is the best explanation for causes of accidents at workplace due to the fact that the workplaces are all about relationship of human beings with the working environment. Consequently, an accident at the workplace can be explained by an error made by an employee or worker. 

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Human error is a generic term that considers all events when the planned patterns of mental or physical practices fail to meet the targeted outcomes. It occurs whenever the mistakes was not caused or influenced by any intervention into an emergency event (Dekker, 2013). All human errors can be classified into those that occur because of skilled behavior and those that occur because of unskilled behavior, commonly referred to as mistakes. Mistakes, in turn, can be categorized into the rule-based errors and knowledge-based errors (Smith & DeJoy, 2012). The rule-based errors occur when the action requires utilization of rules while the knowledge-based errors occur in case an individual lacks certain skill or knowledge that have to be applied in the process of the task accomplishment (Smith & DeJoy, 2012). Classifying human errors into different levels has also played a significant role in branding this factor as a major cause of most accidents at the workplace.

Human error can take different forms including pilot’s error, complacency error, ineffective decision-making, operator’s error, poor judgment, failure of following the procedures, and lack of required knowledge or awareness. Research has indicated that usually human error is a result of overload, ineffective actions, and/ or inappropriate response. Overload results from the imbalances between the worker’s capacities and his/her workload at a certain state and time (Smith & DeJoy, 2012). Additional difficulties emerge because of environmental factors such as distractions and noise, among many other issues. The burdens also originate from internal and situational environments such as unclear procedures and increased risk levels. In this case, the way an individual responds to a certain condition can lead to or prevent an accident.

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Smith and DeJoy (2012) assert that an error happens when an individual detects a dangerous condition but fails to correct it. Consequently, an inappropriate response can lead to incompatibility that can cause the accidents and injuries. In addition, inappropriate activities can lead to human error. A good example is a worker that performs a duty, with which he is not familiar while another person who judges the level of risk is not aware of the fact. Consequently, both misjudgment and/ or lack of knowledge and awareness can lead to an accident.

Human error has proven to be effective in explaining the occurrence of accidents since it has been studied by many researchers. Research by Dekker (2013) reveals that the human error causes 90% of all road accidents in the world. Most importantly, 70 to 80% of all aviation accidents have been associated with the human error. Nevertheless, the estimates of actual role of the human error in accidents tend to vary from one research to another. A study conducted in the 1980s regarding causes of the work-related accidents in Australia for the past 3 years indicated that behavioral issues caused 90% of all critical accidents at the workplace. A clear example is that of the ship industry during the occurrence of Titanic accident. In this case, human error made a great contribution to the fatal accident that led to death of many people (Dekker, 2013). A study done in the United States indicated that 99% of all crashes investigated happened due to behavioral error of drivers. Another crash in the United Kingdom also indicated 78 contributors to the accident that were all associated with the human error (Smith & DeJoy, 2012). Most importantly, the recent studies have proved even more significant role of the human factor in accidents. Those researches develop the models that feature additional elements in the entire environment of an accident (Smith & DeJoy, 2012).

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Studying human error as a major cause of most accidents is a crucial step towards preventing and solving the problem of accidents and injuries especially at the workplace. Studying human error has also revealed that several human factors including behavioral and environmental issues significantly contribute to the accidents (Smith & DeJoy, 2012). Failure to follow instructions, wear equipments that are meant for ensuring safety, and take extra caution whenever one is handling fatal equipment usually leads to accidents. Studying this topic can assist greatly in attracting attention and encouraging people to take extra caution by wearing safety equipment and following the rules and instructions in order to ensure safety at the workplace and in any other settings prone to accidents caused by the human error. Error management is another topic that the study helps to develop. Error management incorporates two major components that include limitation of incidences of fatal errors and creation of systems that can tolerate the error occurrence (Smith & DeJoy, 2012). The topic also reveals that there is the need for involvement of an individual, team, task, workplace, as well as the institution in managing the human error.

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