Industrial accidents: The COO’s most preventable risk


Industrial accidents should be a thing of the past, yet industrial occupations remain dangerous and complicated careers. Occupations in utilities, transport, manufacturing, and oil and gas involve risk, but the most startling thing is most of this risk stems from manual processes and human error meaning most industrial accidents are preventable.

Cost cutting, taking short cuts, failing to provide proper training, or failing to implement safety standards places workers at an even higher risk of injury. Conversely, when employees fail to utilise the protocols and safety standards provided, they put themselves, others, and the company at risk.

Accidents are avoidable. According to compiled statistics from an international labour organisation, more than 2.3 million accidental deaths occur globally each year as a result of workplace accidents and work-related diseases. Following protocols can reduce or eliminate industrial accidents, saving job completion time, company resources, and employee lives and health.

We will discuss common industrial accidents, the main causes of accidents, the cost of industrial accidents, take a look at three of the worst types of accidents, and then review risk assessment and safety metrics to ensure workplace safety.

Common Industrial Accidents

Major areas of concern are equipment rollovers and falls. These are the main causes of injury and death in industry overall. When employees are working on foot and in close proximity to large equipment, being struck by heavy equipment or trucks are also major causes of death.

Types of heavy equipment accidents include vehicle and forklift overturns. Falls on the job are no less fatal, as a fall from any height greater than your own can result in death. Each year in the Western Pacific Region Office (WPRO) Region A, which includes Australia, Brunei, Japan, New Zealand, and Singapore, there are 259,112 accidents that cause at least 3 days absence, and an additional 2,370 deaths.

Other Preventable Events include the following:

  • Struck by equipment or vehicle
  • Faulty robot injury
  • Defective power tools
  • Caught in equipment or machinery
  • Struck or crushed in collapsing structure
  • Toxic chemical exposure

The cause of Industrial Accidents:

Industrial accidents vary across work activities, making it hard to say exactly what causes them. Accidents in one area of occupation, such as mining, will have different causal factors from accidents in an entirely different area of industrial activity, like welding technologies. However, 80 percent of accidents that happen in the workplace are primarily triggered by improper precautionary measures.

Improper Safety Measures that result in industrial accidents include:

industrial accidents safety measures
Human factors, including manual process, are the primary cause of accidents

Taking shortcuts. When employees take shortcuts they are putting themselves and fellow employees at risk. Industrial Accidents can have the effect of causing injury or death. Shortcuts are not safe, do not work, and should be avoided.

Poor management of space. Keep work areas clear of debris, well organised, and move unused tools and equipment to proper storage areas. According to Safety Partners LTD, “A poorly kept up [work]area leads to hazards and threats everywhere. Not only does good housekeeping lead to heightened safety, it also sets a good standard for everyone else in the workplace to follow.”

Neglecting safety procedures. There are protocols mandated for your safety from the Federal government. Agencies like the WHS/OH&S have specific and clear safety guidelines that employers – and by extension, employees – must follow. Failing to comply with standards will not only result in serious penalties for the employee, up to and including termination and penalties for the employer, but can also result in serious injury or death.

Post Industrial Accident Response. A final and seldom considered aspect of improper safety measures is post-accident response. This is an area of critical concern. Viruses like hepatitis B and C, HIV, and MRSA can be transmitted through blood and other bodily fluids left behind at the scene of an accident. Likewise, sending improperly geared employees to remove malfunctioning electrical equipment can result in additional serious accidents on site. Being prepared in advance for accidents is a part of accident response.

Manual Processes:

  • Manual processes are put in place for workers to follow to ensure accurate and efficient completion of a project and to protect worker safety. Manual processes include everything from sign-in procedures on job sites to proper use of safety equipment. However, manual processes are often overlooked or neglected leading to more human error or shift handover challenges – two big contributors to accidents.

Human Error:

  • Human errors include errors at all levels of work, from design errors created offsite that have onsite impacts to distractions to morale issues, time pressures, and more.
  • Human error is the number one cause of industrial accidents. Regardless of how well trained or cautious an employee is, errors can and will happen. A Cyber Security Index report by IBM Security service found that over 95 percent of all incidents under investigation originated with human error.

Shift Handover – where industrial accidents are born…

Shift handover – if not handled correctly, competently, and effectively – can be devastating. According to the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), more than 40% of industrial accidents occur during start-up, shutdown and shift handover periods. Clearly written protocols with strict oversight could avoid many of these accidents.

Shift handovers occur on jobsites when shifts are beginning, concluding, or between shifts as crews overlap, additional crews arrive or depart, or when maintenance, janitorial, or other support services overlap in the course of their duties.

The goals of a shift handover include the transfer of responsibilities, transfer of data, takeover of processes in progress, the end of processes in progress, and the start of new processes. This may include cessation of use of heavy equipment, parking of vehicles, turning on or off power areas, and other potentially hazardous events. Maintaining vigilance in the application of approved and provided shift handover processes is key to safety.

The ongoing optimisation of shift handover is a process known as shift excellence.

Key principles of shift excellence

industrial accidents during shift handover

To ensure a safe and efficient handover, organisations should:

  • Identify higher risk handover processes
  • Develop clear and effective intra-shift and staff communication skills
  • Emphasise the importance of shift handover
  • Provide clear procedures for shift handover
  • Plan for maintenance work to be completed within one shift if possible or during low danger hours within multiple shifts

Shift handover should be:

  • Conducted face-to-face
  • Two-way, with both participants taking joint responsibility
  • Done using both verbal and written communication
  • Based on an analysis of the information needs of incoming staff
  • Given as much time and resources as necessary 

Improvements can and should also be made through other areas, including designing with operators in mind, third party/management tracking of time, adequate space, training personnel effectively to ensure completion, ensuring that end users are thoroughly considered, and utilising modern technologies that are available to streamline processes, effectuate communication, and ensure safe handovers.

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The cost of industrial accidents

  • Human lives – When accidents happen, lives are often lost or permanently altered. The goal of protocols is to prevent loss of life and other adverse outcomes of workplace accidents. In the BP Texas City Refinery Explosion in 2005, explosions and fires killed 15 people and injured another 180, and resulted in financial losses exceeding $1.5 billion. The reason for the explosion was shift communication. An investigative report found that supervisors and operators poorly communicated critical information regarding the startup procedure during the shift turnover and that BP did not have a shift turnover communication requirement for its operations staff.
  • Regulatory fines & liability – In May 2017, WGA Pty Ltd (WGA) was convicted and fined AUD 1 million from a maximum of AUD 1.5 million after the NSW District Court found that its director deliberately let a subcontractor work near live high-voltage power lines in order to avoid delaying a construction project. The fine is the largest penalty imposed for an offence under the NSW Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act) to date.
  • Lost production – According to the National Safety Council, the total cost of work injuries (in the US) in 2017 was $161.5 billion. This figure includes productivity losses of $50.7 billion. This total also includes employers’ uninsured costs of $12.4 billion, including the value of time lost by workers other than those with disabling injuries who are directly or indirectly involved in injuries, and the cost of time required to investigate injuries and write-up injury reports.

Highlighting one statistic, productivity losses of $50.7 billion, is enough reason to be vigilant with regard to workplace safety. 

Three of the worst industrial accidents and how to prevent them


Accident 1 – DuPont LaPorte Toxic Chemical Leak (2014): A U.S.

Chemical Safety Board investigation found a series of shift communication mistakes beginning five days before the incident. Shift communication mistakes can mean several things: failure to properly document important information for the following shift to review, failure to transfer information, failure to review information received from previous shifts, or failure of tools used to perform any of these tasks.

These are all areas of human error. Protocols are in place for shift handovers, including transfer and dissemination of all necessary information from shift-to-shift, information tracking, follow up, and compliance and outcome review.

Accident 2 – BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (2010):

This massive incident brought renewed scrutiny to oil and gas operations. According to a report, BP made a series of decisions during the days leading up to the blowout without having appropriately analyzed all the available information, constituting a failure of inter- and intra-shift communications. They did not share critical information that was generated by their onshore staff and reports from their drilling partner.

On January 16, 2018, BP PLC announced it would take a $1.7 billion charge for expenses related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. As of July 14, 2016, BP had spent $61.6 billion in court fees, penalties, and clean-up costs. The company was fined a record $18 billion under the Clean Water Act. The court ruled that BP repeatedly cut corners to boost profits.

Human error and equipment failings were the problem. Communication could have prevented or mitigated the extent of the leak, the number of deaths, the environmental impact, cost to local industry, and cost to the company. Ensuring proper communication logs are kept, transfer of information occurs, avoiding cutting corners, and using integrated communication tools could have prevented this disaster.

Accident 3 – Continental Express Aircraft Crash (1991):

This accident has become an oft-cited example of the dangers of faulty shift handovers. The aircraft crashed, killing all 14 people on board. A row of fasteners for the left horizontal stabilizer leading edge had been removed and not replaced during maintenance the night before the accident. The NTSB found that the error might have been detected had shift handover procedures between outgoing and incoming shifts been followed.

Human error is again at fault. Maintenance crews had failed to complete a procedure, communication between shifts to ensure completion of the process failed, and protocols for shift handover were not followed. Had protocols been followed this accident could have been prevented. Major causes of failure to follow protocols include employee fatigue, distraction, cutting corners, time pressure, and rushing to complete a shift. Taking time to document processes to ensure completion, working to communicate effectively, having supervisors ensure all protocols are followed, and utilizing the most up-to-date logging, tracking, and communication tools are just a few ways to avoid these errors.

Risk assessment matrix

risk assessment matrix example

Risk assessment is a necessary process for industrial occupation, providing a systematic examination process to assess safety hazards across an entire worksite. A risk matrix is often used during a risk assessment to measure the level of risk by considering the consequence/severity and likelihood of injury to a worker after being exposed to a specific hazard.

Here’s a graphic example of a risk matrix that can be adapted to your specific workplace needs:

Key safety metrics to track

Data is key to uncovering new insights and making better-informed decisions. Gathering, compiling, and understanding safety data from the reporting process is vital to prevent industrial accidents.

1. Incidents and Near Misses

Many businesses focus the majority of reporting on lagging indicators, like incidents and near misses. A lagging indicator is a measurable factor that changes only after an event has begun or occurred. Measuring these kinds of indicators tells an organisation how they’ve been performing and provides a foundation to build towards heightened prevention.

2. Inspections and Audits Completed

Effective workplace safety programs focus on leading indicators, starting with the number of inspections and audits regularly completed on your job sites. A leading indicator is any factor that changes in advance of an event (e.g. wind shifts during work at height). To collect good quality data, ensure all of your employees are aware of potentially unsafe conditions and conduct formal training sessions that cover how to complete inspections and hazard assessments in order to be aware of leading indicators.

3. Corrective Actions

Assigning corrective actions is an important part of workplace safety improvement. Correction of unsafe behaviour, practices, or processes will help prevent workplace accidents. Assessing the number of corrective actions a workforce is completing on a regular basis can help to determine the trajectory of improvement or decline, consider new actions, and reinforce positive behaviours. It is also critical to monitor the number of corrective actions that are being assigned but not completed.

4. Employee Training

Managing employee training records is one of the most essential safety metrics to track. Tracking valid training certificates (and when those certificates are going to expire) is a proactive approach to workplace safety, ensures only the right employees are performing high-risk tasks, rewards employees for practising workplace safety, and can help meet compliance requirements.

5. Worker Participation

To prevent incidents and reduce risk, every member of an organisation needs to be involved and actively participating in maintaining a safe working environment. This means every employee at every level needs to be aware of the company’s safety goals and contribution requirements. Keeping employees aware of safety goals and requirements, as well as providing the appropriate and ongoing training, tools, and positive reinforcement, will help a jobsite avoid unnecessary workplace accidents.

Digitising safety and compliance

Practical solutions to current problems are available in the form of new technology, specifically digital approaches. An organisation that isn’t utilising all the available digital solutions to workplace safety and compliance is risking their workers’ safety, facing possible litigation, and putting their reputation at risk.

Operations Management

operations management software benefits
Software can help improve operations management, providing productivity and safety compliance

i. Shift handover

Shift handover is one of the most dangerous parts of the day for industrial occupations. There are numerous areas of handover that are contributing factors to human error and accidents, including the use of paper over integrated digital infrastructures, spreadsheets, antiquated communication tools, use of whiteboards with no tracking, and scattered databases.

Shift handover software need to address these shortfalls with an eye toward streamlining processes, providing tracking, and integrating digital infrastructure. The j5 Shift Handover solution is effective because it improves intra- and inter-shift communication and reduces the risk of any potentially hazardous incidents.

The BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill was caused by a series of decisions made in the days prior, including not having appropriately analysed all available information, resulting in a failure of inter- and intra-shift communications. They failed to share critical information that was generated by their onshore staff and reports. These are all areas of issue rooted in the use of non-integrated, antiquated shift handover systems.

Benefits of the j5 Shift Handover system include an intuitive framework and simple browser interface that is accessible across worksites, resulting in wide visibility of workplace shift data. It also eliminates the use of paper and scattered databases, as well as spreadsheets, helps to reduce the impact of human error, saves time, and has advanced workflow capabilities like checklists, electronic sign-off, and workflow monitoring to ensure a structured shift handover. The j5 Shift Handover system has been proven effective across a range of industrial occupations.

ii. eLogbook – 

The volume of operations, maintenance, and safety events occurring at all levels of a worksite can be controlled and reduced. There are still inadequate, time-consuming methods (e.g. paper, word processor, spreadsheet) being used to log, track, and share events. Organisational risk and inefficiency are heightened when outdated processes are used.

In the Continental Express Aircraft crash, the failure to complete a routine procedure and lack of communication between shifts were the major contributors to the disaster. A shift handover process that is compact, universally trackable, clear, and easily shareable between shifts, employees, and supervisors could have prevented it.

Shift handover reports are prone to error and take time to compile, are often poorly categorised, time-consuming to retrieve, and not widely accessible across worksites. Dual capture happens and information silos are created when limited and non-integrated logging processes are employed.

The j5 Operations Logbook allows operations teams to record, manage, and view any event in a consistent and efficient way with a web browser and mobile device. Such a solution can bring efficiency benefits, like saving time and improving accuracy, real-time events monitoring, seamless integration, and intuitive logging to reduce human error and corner cutting.

iii. Inspection Rounds

Probably the most critical aspect of workplace safety prevention, and an area prone to human error, is inspection rounds. Formal inspections can take different forms and you and your representatives will need to agree on the best methods for your workplace.

Inspection rounds are critical, yet many inspectors rely on paper checklists and clipboards. Inspection round data is often manually entered in a spreadsheet, database, or disconnected application, wasting valuable time and creating unnecessary problems.

The j5 Mobile application is used on industry standard devices, allowing personnel to collect a sequence of measurements or observations according to a predefined plan, with options to attach photos, videos, and notes to provide additional information.

The j5 Inspection Rounds Desktop Configuration and Management application allows inspection rounds to be created according to a recurring schedule – for example daily or monthly rounds – or as a once-off round. Personnel can also easily view past, current and future inspection rounds.

iv. Incident management

Incident management is another critical area still managed with piecemeal and antiquated processes. A single application is necessary across all departments that will enforce standardized and accepted work practices in a clear, consistent manner and provide the necessary coordinating directives to ensure the actions are executed on time without costly omissions. 

The j5 Incident and Near Miss Management application delivers controlled, consistent management of incidents and near miss tasks across all departments. If the j5 Operations Management System is present, the j5 Incident Management application also allows the creation of j5 Standing Orders to communicate information about Incidents and Near Misses across the organization, streamlining logging and tracking, allowing for worksite-wide sharing, and bringing a heightened level of prevention.


Industrial accidents can and will occur. Taking the necessary steps to prevent accidents is important in saving lives, preventing injuries, avoiding production losses, and mitigating costly enforcement penalties. In order to keep up with the dangers of industrial occupations and the advanced technological level of new industries, new technologies are needed. Bringing digital infrastructure, like j5, into the workplace can replace the antiquated and ineffective processes of the past with solutions for the modern world.

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