How Employees Are Set-up To Have Accidents At Work

By IANPEMBERTON | Published: 24/02/2012

Welcome to undercover health and safety clips where we use real examples of where health and safety has gone wrong to highlight universal lessons helpful to us all. We begin a harbour where a car has fallen into the water, and, a mobile crane has been brought in to lift it out. Even before the car is out of the water you’ll notice that the lorry has started to lean over at a dangerous angle – so you can perhaps guess what is going to happen next .

Or, perhaps not – success? No! You were right. Ok, so what would you do now? Bring in a bigger crane? Well that’s what they did. It would seem to be a better option – it’s larger – and has out riggers for stabilisation. And sure enough it has lifted the car out safely! But of course there is still the lorry in the water to deal with.

You can see here that the lorry in the water has suddenly shifted. Now, given that this mobile crane is lifting — well —- a mobile crane that has just toppled over – do you think that any lessons have been learnt? Apparently not! It would easy to look at this example and say something like – the people involved are just really foolish – they should have been more careful and they are to blame – right? Well, you cannot say that and in fact the probability is that they, like thousands of other workers, have been set-up to fail. Yes, all workers have individual responsibilities but without the right training, equipment and safe system of work they don’t stand a chance.

Take as a case in point Leslie Brown, a 43 year father from Haile in Cumbria who was killed in an accident at work in April 2010. Leslie was helping to unload a vehicle from a low loader trailer when the ramp failed, fell and killed him. The subsequent police and Health & Safety Executive investigation found that there had been previous problems with the ramp. However, at the inquest, the director of the company involved, and the transport manager told the inquest that they had not been told of the earlier problem. The transport manager said:

If there had been a report I would have seen it, but there wasn’t a report

The transport manager also said:

We didn’t have a risk assessment for that particular trailer, but we did have general assessments.

When questioned, she also said the manufacturer’s instruction manual was not given to those using the equipment So what general lessons can we draw from these examples that would be helpful to us all – regardless of our work area?


  • Well, People at the sharp end need to know and understand what is involved in undertaking risk assessments, because …..
  • Risk assessment is a practical and dynamic activity that is all about keeping people safe. It should NOT be a red tape exercise in a box ticking – there is no point having a copy in a file that no one knows about or understands. We all undertake risk assessments instinctively everyday – it’s what keeps us safe during mundane daily activities. But this type of risk assessment should not to be confused with assessments at work, perhaps involving dangerous machinery – this requires know-how, skills.

And so..

  • People at the sharp end need training so that they are competent in risk assessment principles
  • And, they need safe work systems — which they have also been trained in – maintenance reporting for instances, so that if things change or problems arise – the appropriate action are reported and actions taken

Of course none of this will happen unless managers make sure that..

  • There are proper risk assessments and everyone knows about them
  • They provide appropriate training and information
  • And, they have systems for detecting problems as they arise – and deal with them – otherwise there is no chance that accidents are work will be prevented.

So this is what we mean by workers being set-up – these are often not provided and without them they don’t stand a chance. You can easily develop your risk assessment skills via the Human Focus e-Learning system. We believe that knowledge is one of the best ways of keeping people safe at work – ignorance can literally kill. Regardless of whether you are a manager or frontline operative these courses can help.

They are nationally recognised qualifications and are accredited by the Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents. They begin with basic risk assessment principles. You can then extend your knowledge via an extensive library of courses that cover risk assessment principles in a wide range of subject areas – such as fire, hazardous substances, work equipment, work at height and many more.

Finally, we would like to hear from you – tell us about any breaches of health and safety you have come across and the lessons you have learnt about how to prevent accidents at work in the comments box below. Remember to leave a contact email. We will mention all contributions in future presentations and with your permission highlight the best of them.