“Just an Industrial Accident”

| April 26, 2013

There have been two deadly workplace accidents in two weeks. 

  • A horrific explosion in West Texas that killed 14 and destroyed at least 40 homes. 
  • A building collapse in Bangladesh that killed at least 275 and injured hundreds more.

In both cases, a workplace incident quickly became a community tragedy.

  • In West Texas – What may have been a small fire triggered a massive explosion – an explosion several times greater than the explosion in the Oklahoma City bombing.
  • In Bangladesh – An unsafe building has become a mass grave where family members are digging through the rubble searching for loved ones.

Unfortunately, worker safety is often viewed by the press as unimportant when compared to events that are labeled as terrorist attacks.  This was clearly evident last week.  One report, when comparing the West Texas Explosion to the Boston Marathon Bombing, characterized the explosion in West Texas as “just an industrial accident.”  No readily available villain so, therefore, the event is less important. 

deathYet, statistics show that workplace incidents are often much more deadly.  In addition, the effects don’t stop at the facility boundary.  Industrial accidents also impact families and our communities.

Workplace deaths are even more worthy of our attention because they are often preventable – if there is the public will to insist that they become so.

We will not be able to stop every terrorist attack without both a massive outlay of resources and even greater intrusions into areas that were previously considered private and “off limits” in a free society.  Yet, the causes of most significant workplace incidents can be identified and addressed.  What is often missing is a societal insistence that those who can prevent workplace accidents be required to do so rather than profiting from ignoring unsafe workplace conditions.

Both a change in perspective and improved enforcement of workplace standards are needed.

Society needs to stop viewing workplace accidents as simply an acceptable risk that workers are expected to take in order to get paid for their labors.  As John Howard put it – “Earning a day’s pay should not place anyone at risk of losing life or livelihood.”

In addition, international consensus standards are needed that establish clear, transparent and enforceable requirements that organizations must meet if they want to claim recognition for providing “safe workplaces.” 

ISO is proposing such a standard be developed in its New Work Item Proposal for an Occupational Health and Safety Management System standard (click here to read more about it).  Of course more will be needed to ensure worker safety but at least the development of an ISO standard can be an initial first step – if this initiative is approved.

 © ENLAR Compliance Services, Inc. (2013)

Category: Emergency Preparedness, Global OH&S Issues, Standard Development

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