You have probably heard the phrase “an accident waiting to happen” – or used it yourself to refer to a person or environment that is dangerous or unsafe. According to wordhistories.net the phrase is of US origin and first appeared in print in the October 6, 1905 edition of the Central Kansas Democrat:
“We heard a man tell another one the other day that he ‘Stood around looking just like an accident waiting to happen!’ We nearly fainted.”
Wordhistories.net defines the phrase as:
- a situation that is likely to lead to disaster or misfortune, especially because of negligence or neglect, or
- someone who behaves in a way that is likely to cause trouble.
Founded in 1913, the National Safety Council (NSC) collects, analyzes, and reports US injury and fatality statistics. The NSC uses factual data as a measure of progress made in preventing injuries and deaths in the US – at home, in community, at work, and on the roadways. They rightly make a distinction between “accidents” (the sequence of events that lead to unintended injury, death, or property damage) and preventable injuries, deaths, and property damage (the result of the events).
The NSC makes such a distinction because calling preventable injuries and deaths “accidents” implies that they are somehow unavoidable or the result of fate. This is not true, and NSC believes that together we can – and will – eliminate preventable deaths in our lifetime.
Near Miss Reporting – Avoiding the Avoidable
In the workplace, where the potential for injury is on the increase, any safety initiative should include a near miss component. Near miss programs encourage and reward employees for observing and reporting unsafe conditions, environments, or persons so they can be tracked and corrected.
According to Safetyandhealthmagazine.com, a near miss is defined as “an unplanned event that did not result in injury, illness, or damage – but had the potential to do so.” By collecting, tracking, and analyzing near misses, employers can determine how and why they occurred and take corrective action to prevent serious injuries from occurring in the future. The goal is to cultivate a culture that encourages every employee to be alert to any situation that can be viewed as “an accident waiting to happen” – and be willing to report it.
The Importance of a Positive Safety Culture
Employee engagement and morale is a significant driving force behind workplace safety, as pointed out by Addison Moore on safeopedia.com. Engagement improves when leaders recognize that effective EHS management isn’t just about safety procedures and policies – it is also about creating an environment where employees feel valued, empowered, and motivated.
Moore lists several considerations when building and promoting a positive safety culture. Among them are recognition and appreciation – vital to any comprehensive safety/recognition program. Check out this fact sheet from NSC and OSHA to learn more about the value of near miss programs. And be on the lookout for the next accident waiting to happen.