Understanding the scope of the problem is the first step.

Statistically speaking, if something is possible, then eventually, it will happen. This seems to imply that accidents are inevitabilities. This may be true, but the severity of and frequency of accidents can be controlled to an extent. Several studies on accidents have been conducted by numerous federal, industrial and private institutes, and the general consensus -- though not the only theory -- is that accidents are the culmination of a chain of events. As we have all learned, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Breaking one of the links in the chain leading up to an accident is an effective way of avoiding, or at the very least minimizing, the accident.

Sadly, many industries rely on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and other government agencies rules and regulations and believe they have done “as much as we could” to avoid accidents. It is important to remember that OSHA's goal is the protection of employees, not the prevention of accidents. These would seem to go hand in hand and often, but not always, do.

In 2000, the National Safety Council, Itasca, Ill., released figures for the year of 1999 on costs to the industrial complex of worker-related accidents. In total, accidents cost industry $123 billion dollars in 1999 in quantifiable losses. These figures do not take in to account lowered morale, the cost of retraining individuals to take the place of absent workers due to accidents, etc. The $123 billion dollars is broken down into four categories:

  • Wage and productivity loss, which accounted for $64 billion.

  • Medical costs, which accounted for $20 billion.

  • Administrative, which accounted for $34 billion.

  • Fire and Motor Vehicle Damage, which accounted for $4 billion.

Add into these numbers the cost to industry of lost time days -- $124 million -- and you can see how staggering these numbers are.

According to the National Safety Council, on the average, accidents cause 3.5 million disabling injuries and 6,120 workplace fatalities a year. What is even more surprising is the average cost of a worker-related accident to industry. The average cost of an accident involving a death was $940,000. The average cost of an accident involving a disabling injury was $28,000. It is important to note that these figures do not take into account the more subtle costs of non-injury accidents or close calls.

Another very important cost of industrial accidents is insurance premiums. According to the business continuity group Survive, a United Kingdom consortium, compulsory coverage for workplace accidents continues to increase, in some cases by as much as 1,000 percent. Public liability coverage, which is not mandatory but will cover slips, trips and other injuries to members of the general public, also is increasing at an alarming rate.

The National Safety Council reports that human error underlies a full 80 percent of all industrial accidents and injuries. Some quick math then tells us that (according to the National Safety Council), human error was responsible for a full $98.4 billion in accident-related costs in 1999.

The National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspectors reports that 83 percent of the 23,338 accidents in the last 10 years, or 19,371 accidents, were due to human oversight or lack of knowledge. Some academicians estimate the percentage of accidents contributable to unsafe acts by employees as high as 88 percent.

In statistical process control, you are taught to go after the “big rocks” first, the things that will make the biggest immediate impact on the process. It appears to be the general consensus of the professionals, that our first big rock to go after would be employee training, thus breaking the chain of events leading up to industrial accidents.

Now that you understand the scope of the problem, look to this column in the next few issues for how to tackle the primary cause of worker-related accidents -- inadequate training, specifically as it relates to industrial process refrigeration systems.

Dallas Babcock is the coordinator/instructor of the Ammonia Refrigeration Operator Training Program at Garden City Community College, Garden City, Kan. Garden City Community College trains operators from across the nation with an emphasis on safety and a hands-on approach. Dallas also is an active member in the International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration and currently is serving on the Ammonia Refrigeration Training Guidelines Taskforce. Dallas also is a member of the International Packaged Ice Association, the International Association of Food Industry Suppliers, the International Association of Refrigerated Warehouses, and the Refrigerating Engineers and Technicians Association.

In his role as coordinator/instructor, Dallas works closely with operators, managers and engineers in the refrigeration industry to keep the curriculum of the training program current and relevant. Dallas has been in the industrial maintenance industry his entire adult life with experience in ammonia refrigeration for the last 15 years. He may be reached at (620) 275-3256 or e-mail dallas.babcock@gcccks.edu.