Occupational risks assessment and taking action to protect workers’ safety and health is an obligation of each employer. There are numerous measures considered as relevant for accident prevention, e.g. design and use of more safe equipment and technologies or replacing dangerous equipment and products by non-dangerous or less dangerous ones, improvement of working environment, use and maintenance of personal protective equipment, management and staff training, improvement of communication, etc. This article focuses on the common organisational measures of accident prevention (such as work organisation, consultation, information and training, occupational safety and health management, etc.), which should be or could be applied in each company.
The worker, his tasks, the equipment and the environment make up a dynamic “working system" which can be changed by changing characteristics of one or few of its components. Besides, changing one component also leads to changing others. From the safety viewpoint reliability of the system first of all depends on reliability of each of its components, and secondly failure of one or few components should be considered as failure of the system. In this context a work-related accident may be described as failure of the system with an undesired conclusion (injuries, fatalities, loss of production or damage of property).
The occupational risks which can lead to accidents or incidents should be identified by risk assessment. Accident statistics demonstrate that slips, trips and falls, falling objects, unintentional contact with sharp or hot objects, moving vehicles and machinery are the largest cause of work-related accidents in all industries or activities. But the harmful factors that may result in persons being injured, the type of hazards, the risks they pose and the severity of possible injuries vary from workplace to workplace and sector to sector. These harmful factors are often linked to different energy forms, sources or activity, such as:
- energy that involves cutting, dividing or planing (use of knives, saws and other sharp tools);
- energy that involves pressing and compressing (use of presses and clamping tools);
- the conversion of kinetic energy into potential energy (when something hits or falls against a worker);
- the conversion of potential energy in a person into kinetic energy (falls from height);
- heat and cold, electricity, sound, light, radiation and vibration;
- toxic and corrosive substances;
- energy exposing the body to excessive stress (moving of heavy loads or twisting of the body);
- mental and psychological stresses (threat of violence) (ILO, 2011).
On the other hand, accident studies show that human factors are a major component of the causes of work-related accidents (they are involved in more than 90% of work-related fatal accidents) and making errors should be considered as a constant feature of human behaviour (they involve approximately two-thirds of work-related fatal accidents). The importance of these factors is more apparent considering that they are involved in the interaction with other human factors (mistakes, slips, trips and falls or unintended acts etc.) and also with non-human factors (machinery, working environment etc.).
It is obvious that finding common accident prevention schemes is extremely difficult first of all due to the complexity of accident causation. The problem is particularly acute in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Data on the causes of fatal occupational accidents investigated in Spain in 2003–2004 clearly disclose an organisational nature of a vast majority of causes of occupational accidents (Figure 1). Around 30% of all accident causes were deficiencies of work organisation but analysis of the actual accidents showed presence of such deficiencies in more than 90% of the total accidents investigated. Indicated deficiencies of work organisation, intrinsic prevention (safety checks), prevention management, use of occupational safety and health (OSH) signs and protection, equipment of workplaces, and neglecting of individual factors (disregard of individual capabilities and limitations such as physical, mental or personality features, knowledge and experience when adapting the workplace for employee) in common approach can be classified as organisational causes(EU-OSHA, 2010).
Statistical data on the areas that are covered by risk assessments or similar checks (Figure 2) show that these tend to focus on the physical environment, and also on organisational aspects, such as work organisation, working hours or supervisor-employee relationships.
Consequently it is true to say that harmful factors are to a great extent governed by the nature of the processes, technologies, products and equipment in the workplace, but may also be governed by the way in which the work is organised. Thus control of the probability of exposures and the seriousness of injuries to workers often depends on the following factors:
- Elimination/substitution safety measures (e.g., use of a less harmful chemical instead of a toxic chemical in a process);
- Technical safety measures (separating persons from harmful factors by encapsulating the harmful elements, installing barriers between workers and the factors which may cause injury);
- Organisational safety measures also known as administrative controls (separating persons from harmful factors either by means of special working methods or by separation in time or space, e.g., reduced exposure time, preventive maintenance programmes, encapsulating the individual workers with personal protective equipment and expedient organisation of work).
It should be noted that due to limited possibilities of use of elimination/substitution or technical safety measures, harmful factors will always be present in human working environment. Therefore very often organisational safety measures could be the most effective solution of accident prevention.
Safety and health at work might be threatened by more indirect effects of changing organisational practices (e.g., worker access to occupational health services and programmes might be adversely affected by organisational downsizing or by the growth of defined contribution or voucher-style health benefit programmes). The multiple influences of work organisation on occupational safety and health are illustrated in Figure 3
Experience of different firms that adopted organisational changes and new management practices in recent years shows that from the viewpoint of accident prevention at work priority should be given to the following issues: work and rest time balance, job enrichment, team and individual work, supervision, shift and night work, etc..
Establishment of work and rest time
Sustained working hours, high work intensity, hurry, etc. directly relates with mistakes and oversights (such as unperformed or delayed action, inadequate use of control etc.). The harmful risk factors (such as noise, heat, etc.) additionally induce occurrence of mistakes and oversights. The mentioned working conditions cause physiological changes in a person. Because the worker has to put more energy into his work, he might need more oxygen and his heart rhythm will increase. On the other hand it is also true that exceeded limits of working time increase tiredness. In addition shift work makes it difficult for a person to have a normal sleep pattern. If this goes on for a long time, the risk of getting injured increases. In other words, an inadequate work and rest time ratio is incompatible with human psycho-physiological features. Therefore the employers must take the measures to ensure that every worker is entitled to:
- a minimum daily rest period of 11 consecutive hours per 24-hour period;
- a rest break where the working day is longer than six hours;
- a minimum uninterrupted rest period of 24 hours for each seven-day period which is added to the 11 hours' daily rest;
- maximum weekly working time of 48 hours including overtime.
The employee should be able to take rest and meal breaks. A shorter working time and additional special breaks are determined when the chemical or physical working environment values transcend allowable exposure limit values that are provided in national legislation. The working time should be defined by the collective agreements and employment contracts.
Job enrichment means that the worker undertakes, controls, plans, organises and designs his own task. In general terms, it is argued in the literature that greater empowerment of workers is a favourable factor in reducing the accident rate. The available empirical evidence shows that accident rates are negatively related with the delegation of authority, greater autonomy and involvement of workers and high levels of mutual commitment.
Efforts in work content improvement are often directed towards quantitative and qualitative reduction of fatigue. For better results this can be achieved by job enrichment i.e. changing the work structure in such a way that it becomes more meaningful, more complex and causes higher satisfaction for the performer. In certain cases positive effects can be achieved by invoking work rotation, by periodically apportioning jobs and tasks, by increasing the role the operators play at work and by fulfilling or analyzing their expectations. In the improvement of the physical work environment it is very important to utilize the employees' experience in raising new ideas and making decisions that have improvement of work conditions as their main aim.
Job enrichment can be obtained either by adding activities of a similar level or its augmentation with tasks of higher level. Both of the aforementioned methods are often attributed to the process of raising work motivation by increasing the employees' responsibility, interest, independence and sufficient quantity of feedback. Such aims are often attributed to actions that raise goals and expectations when advice is needed by the managers in matters of enhancing the employees' motivation for safe work. Although it should be noted that it is very difficult to detect changes in the conduct of employees and perhaps due to this, facts that prove job enrichment and enhancement are effective in raising satisfaction at work, are scarce. That is why in the future it should be coordinated together with the improvement of working conditions within the companies.
Team and individual work
Advantages of teamwork are characteristic of medium sized and big companies. Due to growth of companies, teamwork will be more frequent in the future. Each employee will have to take interest in safety at work and respective decisions will have to be taken and complied by the whole team. Members of the team will be obliged to know at least a little about each others' work because teamwork requires team members to trust the competence of their colleagues. What is more, the teams will have to be able to react to rapid changes in the environment. The main assumption of successful teamwork is a demand for good communication skills. When working in a team the need for communication skills is enhanced and interrelation between people is intensified. Each employee must adequately deal with anything that might take place in human communication situations; he must be able to manage them accordingly and solve problems within the group of people. Members of the team must be able to solve conflicts, install new methods of collective decision making and communicate openly. Training in teamwork and team improvement indicators may become even more important if safety and health concerns will be adequately integrated into the training programme of every equal professional and employee.
Working in teams also allows to reduce the management efforts and related expenses as the team is self-managed in carrying out its various tasks. It is especially important when the tasks are becoming more complicated and their scope is growing bigger as well as when the demand for coordination between different subdivisions is increased. However, it can be noted that teamwork is not necessarily more efficient than work performed individually. Recently a tendency towards expansion of various forms of individual work has been noticed but the data is too scarce to make any generalisations from the perspective of work organisation.
Organisation of supervision
Organisational changes within the companies tend to decrease the number of supervisors. This is another factor that encourages enhancing collective or team responsibility and to some extent changing supervisors' or managers' functions. Then they may have less influence in everyday supervision and put more effort into organisation of trauma prevention and issues of coordination, into conduct advising, tutoring and encouraging their employees while at the same time paying more attention towards work culture and motivation for safety at work. Reduced supervision should by no means decrease employees' interest in preserving their and their colleagues' health. Only professional skills, inner satisfaction and sufficient competence of the employees will make reduced supervision and management expenses worthwhile. Errors and big accident damage are more frequent where supervision is lower. The aforementioned tendencies emphasise the importance of each person's motivation and initiative. Personal initiative of each employee means that he is a responsible and active citizen loyal to his enterprise. Such approach towards injuries and sickness prevention raises higher expectations and encourages radical changes in employee training as well as cultivation of required competences and prestige of the company.
Employees’ awareness of the occupational risks is directly pertained to the submission of information on relevant hazards. Such information can be obtained either directly through the personal experience of the hazard or from various sources, training and instructions. Certainly the personal experience acquired when carrying out specific tasks is very important for the risk awareness.
Statistic data shows highly skilled workers have less accidents at work (Figure 4).
Notwithstanding workers’ professional skills each of them has a right to receive information about the risks to health and safety, preventive measures, first aid and emergency procedures. All workers need to understand how to work safely. Employers have to consult their workforce on health and safety measures and also before the introduction of new technology or products. Using workers’ knowledge helps to ensure hazards are spotted and workable solutions implemented. Consultation helps to ensure that workers are committed to safety and health procedures and improvements (EU-OSHA, 2009).
Obviously the main goal of training is risk prevention/reduction. Training should be relevant and understandable, including for workers who speak a different language. It should be provided for new workers and for existing workers when work practices or work equipment change, with a change of job, or when new technology is introduced.
Training should be focused on:
- principles of the safety management system and the employees’ responsibilities;
- specific hazards and risks at work;
- the skills needed to carry out tasks;
- procedures that should be followed to avoid any risk;
- preventive measures to be taken before, during, and after the task;
- specific safety and health instructions for working with technical equipment and dangerous products;
- information on collective and individual protection;
- where employees can get information on safety and health issues;
- who should be contacted about emerging risks or in case of emergency.
Accident investigations should identify the immediate and underlying causes, including management failings. The aim is to ensure that systems and procedures are working and to immediately take any corrective action needed. Implementation and operation – involves putting plans into practice. This may mean: making changes to the organisation and working procedures, working environment, equipment and products used; training management and staff; and improving communications.
Incidents, light, heavy and fatal accidents that happen at work must be registered in the company's register of accidents and incidents. When registering an accident or an incident it is crucial to accurately describe the reasons as well as the circumstances of each incident or accident and prepare measures of prevention accordingly.
It is apparent that questions of accident prevention cannot be solved in isolation, but only in the context of their relationship with production/work output and the working environment, the following principles for accident prevention can be derived: For example, in the production setting:
- Accident prevention must be built into production planning with the goal of avoiding disruptions;
- The ultimate goal is to achieve a production flow that is as unhindered as possible. This results not only in reliability and the elimination of defects, but also in the workers’ wellbeing, labour-saving methods and work safety.
Some of the practices commonly used to achieve accident prevention in the workplace:
- Workers and supervisors must be informed and be aware of the dangers and potential hazards (e.g., through education).
- Workers must be motivated to function safely (behaviour modification).
- Workers must be able to function safely. This is accomplished through certification procedures, training and education.
- The personal working environment should be safe and healthy through the use of administrative or engineering controls, substitution of less hazardous materials or conditions, or by the use of personal protective equipment.
- Equipment, machinery and objects must function safely for their intended use, with operating controls designed to human capabilities.
- Provisions should be made for appropriate emergency response in order to limit the consequences of accidents, incidents and injuries.
The employer has to pay attention not only to risk assessment, work organisation, employee consultation, information and training but also to health surveillance. Health surveillance is an important part of accident prevention. It can reveal workers’ health problems that can lead to accidents at work.
But this is not enough. To prevent accidents in the workplace and improve occupational safety and health as a whole employers should establish a safety management system. Improving safety management systems in large enterprises requires a careful analysis of the environmental, organisational and job factors, and human and individual characteristics that influence behaviour at work.
Establishing a safety management system in small and medium-sized enterprises could be difficult but the management should realize that good occupational safety and health can play a major role in helping small enterprises to prevent accidents at work and enhance their business performance.
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