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Using Root Cause Analysis to Reduce Workplace Accidents

written by: Sylvia Cochran•edited by: Ginny Edwards•updated: 4/30/2011

Objective root cause analysis for workplace accidents results in a decrease of potential hazards. Instead of apportioning blame to workers or supervisors, the evaluation takes into account workstation setup, policies, procedures and daily logistics. How can this mechanism help your business today?

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    Choosing a Path of Analysis

    “Metal file cabinets A safety-based root cause analysis makes sense when there have been no serious problems, but perhaps the HR department has commented on some potential weak spots or processes. Another good reason to take a safety approach is based on regularly scheduled cross-training feedback derived from possible near-misses or situations that someone outside the working environment would consider to be hazardous.

    For example, your accountant keeps heavy ledgers on top of a rickety filing cabinet. She knows to only remove one ledger at a time. A clerk filling in for her had a near miss because she took down too many ledgers and the cabinet almost toppled over. Had the accident actually occurred, a failure-based analysis process would have had to be the logical procedure to follow.

    The Occupational Health and Safety Section of the Colorado State University points out that 95 percent of actual accidents occurring in a workplace are directly related to risky behavior while on the job. Thus, while your accountant might share the blame for not requisitioning a new cabinet, she should not be blamed for the incident. Instead, the root cause analysis will look past the behavior and examine why this cabinet was there in the first place. You may find that inappropriate budgeting, denying of a fix-it request or simply a slowdown in the maintenance department may actually have been to blame.

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    Sample Process

    How would you conduct a suitable root cause analysis for the bookkeeper’s file cabinet accident-waiting-to-happen?

    1. Appraise an injury if it occurred. In the alternative, assess the potential for injuries.
    2. Break down the mechanism of the (possible) accident. For example, a removal of two ledgers led to wobbling; a removal of three ledgers led to toppling.
    3. Analyze exact causation. Even though the toppling file cabinet could lead to injury, the clerk’s failure to heed the initial wobbling hurried the accident along.
    4. Determine the cause for the failure. Is the process for requisitioning a new file cabinet not in place? Is there a holdup with the maintenance department, which had been called to fix the cabinet? Is the cabinet new and under warranty, but the company has failed to live up to its contractual obligation? Is the office set up in such a way that the cabinet is not in a good spot? Is the cabinet type unsuitable for the uses it receives?
    5. Document the findings of the analysis.
    6. Based on the analysis, create policies and procedures to prevent future accidents from happening. These procedures may impact a number of departments.
    7. Work with department heads to implement the new policies in a timely manner.
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    Note that a root cause analysis for workplace accidents is a must even on the small scale. It prevents -- or at least minimizes -- blame shifting and employee lawsuits. Instead, it invites an environment where every worker, department and supervisor takes on an active role in creating a safe and suitable work environment.

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