The Need for Reporting and Compiling Accident Data
The primary purpose of assembling and analysing occupational accident data is to provide knowledge for use in the prevention of occupational injuries, fatalities and other forms of harm such as toxic exposures with long-term effects. These data are also useful in assessing needs for compensating victims for injuries previously incurred. Additional, more specific purposes for the compilation of accident statistics include the following:
- to estimate the causes and magnitude of accident problems
- to identify and prioritize the need for preventive measures
- to evaluate the effectiveness of preventive measures
- to monitor risks, issue warnings and conduct awareness campaigns
- to provide feedback for those involved in prevention.
Often, an overview of the number of accidents occurring on an annual basis is desired. A frequency is often used for this purpose, comparing the number of accidents to a measure relating to the risk group and expressed, for example, in terms of accidents per 100,000 workers or per 100,000 working hours. Such annual counts serve the purpose of revealing variations in an accident rate from one year to another. However, while they may indicate the sorts of accidents that require the most urgent preventive action, by themselves they do not furnish guidance as to the form that this action should take.
The need for accident information pertains to the following three levels of function that make use of it:
- At the workplace level within the individual enterprise, accident data are used in local safety activities. The best opportunities for tackling specific risk factors are to be found immediately at the workplace itself.
- At the level of authority responsible for legislation, accident data are used to regulate the working environment and to promote safety at the workplace. It is possible not only to exert control over the workplace at this level but also to carry out general statistical analyses for use in overall preventive work.
- At the level of authority responsible for payments of compensation to accident victims, accident data are used to help determine rates.
The Role of the Organization in Compiling Accident Information
In many countries it is a legal requirement that enterprises keep statistics of occupational accidents which result in injury, fatality or toxic exposure to a worker. The purpose of this is usually to call attention to risks that have actually led to these types of accidents, with safety activities focusing chiefly on the particular accident and the study of the event itself. However, it is more common for accident information to be collected and recorded systematically, a function that is ordinarily carried out at a higher level.
Since the actual circumstances of most accidents are special, wholly identical accidents seldom occur, and prevention based on the analysis of the individual accident very readily tends to become a highly specific matter. By systematically compiling accident information it is possible to obtain a broader view of those areas where specific risks are to be found, and to uncover the less obvious factors instrumental in the causation of the accident. Specific work processes, specific work teams or work with specific machinery can give rise to highly circumstantial accidents. However, a close study of the types of accidents associated with a given class of uniform work can disclose such factors as inexpedient work processes, incorrect use of materials, difficult working conditions, or lack of adequate worker instruction. An analysis of numerous recurring accidents will reveal the fundamental factors to be dealt with when preventive action is taken.
Reporting Accident Information to Safety Authorities
Legislation requiring the reporting of occupational accidents varies widely from country to country, with the differences chiefly relating to the classes of employers and others to whom the laws apply. Countries that place significant emphasis on safety at the workplace usually mandate that accident data be reported to the authority responsible for supervising compliance with safety legislation. (In some cases, legislation requires reporting of occupational accidents that result in absence from work, the duration of such absence varying from 1 to 3 days in addition to the day of the accident.) Common to most legislation is the fact that reporting is linked with some sort of penalty or compensation for the consequences of accidents.
For the purpose of supplying a sound foundation for the prevention of occupational accidents, it is necessary to secure accident information pertaining to all sectors and to all types of trades. A basis of comparison should be provided at the national level in order to allow prevention action to be prioritized and in order that knowledge of risks associated with tasks across different sectors may be turned to good account in preventive work. It is therefore recommended that the duty of compiling occupational accident information at the national level apply to all occupational accidents of a designated seriousness, no matter whether they concern employees of firms or the self-employed, persons working at temporary jobs or regular salary earners, or workers in the public or private sectors.
While employers, generally speaking, have a duty to report accidents, it is a duty carried out with varying degrees of enthusiasm. The extent of compliance with the obligation to report accidents depends on the incentives driving the employer to do so. Some countries have a rule, for instance, according to which employers will be compensated for an accident victim’s lost-time pay, an arrangement that gives them good reason to report occupational injuries. Other countries penalize employers who are found to be not reporting accidents. Where these sorts of incentives do not exist, the merely legal obligation binding upon the employer is not always observed. It is moreover recommended that occupational accident information intended for preventive applications be given to the authority responsible for preventive activities, and be kept separate from the compensating authority.
What Information is to be Compiled?
There are three basic classes of information obtainable by means of accident recording:
- Information identifying where the accidents occur - that is, sectors, trades, work processes and so on. This knowledge can be used to determine where preventive action is needed.
- Information showing how the accidents occur, the situations in which they occur and the ways in which the injuries come about. This knowledge can be used to determine the type of preventive action needed.
- Information relating to the nature and seriousness of the injuries, describing, for example, the parts of the body affected and the health consequences of the injuries. Such knowledge is to be used for prioritizing preventive action in order to ensure that action is taken where the risk is highest.
It is necessary to compile a certain basic complement of data to properly document when and where an accident occurs and to analyse how it occurs. At the enterprise level, the data that are collected are more detailed than those assembled at the national level, but reports generated at the local level will contain items of information valuable at all levels. Table 1 illustrates particular sorts of information that might be recorded by way of describing an individual accident. The items especially relevant to the task of preparing statistics relating to the accident are described more fully below.
Table 1. Informational variables characterizing an accident
Activity of the victim: e.g., operating a machine, performing maintenance, driving, walking, etc.
Component related to the activity of the victim: e.g., power press, tool, vehicle, floor, etc.
Deviant action: e.g., explosion, structural failure, trip, lost control of, etc.
Component related to deviant action: e.g., pressure vessel, wall, cable, vehicle, machine, tool, etc.
Action leading to injury: e.g., struck by, crushed, trapped, in contact with, bitten by, etc.
Agent of injury: e.g., brick, ground, machine, etc.
Accident identification number. All occupational accidents must be assigned a unique identifying number. It is especially advantageous to use a numerical identifier for the purpose of computerized filing and subsequent processing.
Personal identification number and date. Registration of the victim is an essential part of accident identification. The number can be the worker’s birthday, employment number, social security number or some other unique identifier. Recording both a personal identification number and the date of the accident will prevent duplicated registration of the same accident event, and also enables a check to be made as to whether the accident has been reported. The link between information contained in the accident report with the personal identification number can be protected for the purpose of security.
Nationality. The nationality of the victim may be an especially important item of information in countries with a significantly large foreign labour force. A double-digit code number can be selected from among those listed in the DS/ISO Standard 3166.
Occupation. An occupation registration number can be chosen from the list of four-digit international occupation codes supplied by the International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO).
Enterprise. The name, address and identification number of the enterprise are used in the recording of accidents at the national level (although the name and address cannot be used for computer recording). The production sector of the enterprise will usually have been registered with its industrial injury insurance carrier or recorded in connection with the registration of its workforce. A numerical sector identifier can be assigned according to the five-digit NACE international classification system.
The work process. A vital component of information relating to occupational accidents is a description of the work process carried out at the time the accident occurred. Identification of the work process is a prerequisite for accurately targeted prevention. It should be noted that the work process is the actual work function which the victim was performing at the time of the accident and may not necessarily be identical to the work process that caused the injury, fatality or exposure.
The accident event. An accident event normally comprises a chain of events. There is often a tendency on the part of investigators to focus on the part of the event cycle in which the injury actually occurred. From the point of view of prevention, however, a description of that part of the event cycle in which something went wrong, and of what the victim was doing when the event occurred, is just as important.
The consequences of the accident. After the injured part of the body is specified and the type of injury described (this is done partly by coding from a checklist and partly from the description in the event cycle), information is recorded describing the seriousness of the injury, whether it resulted in absence from work (and for how long), or whether it was fatal or involved invalidity. Detailed information in terms of longer-duration absence from work, hospitalization, or disablement is normally available from compensation offices and the social security system.
For recording purposes, the examination of accident events is therefore divided into the following three information components:
- The activity associated with an accident is that which was being carried out by the victim at the time of the accident. It is recorded by means of an action code and a technology code. In this connection, the concept of technology is a broad one, covering such instrumentalities as machines, materials, building components and even animals. At present, there exists no international classification for technology, although Denmark has developed a classification scheme for this purpose.
- The injury event is the deviant event which led to the accident. This is recorded by means of a code for the deviation and by one or two codes for the technology which formed part of the deviation.
- The mode of injury is recorded by using a code for the manner in which the victim came into contact with the injury-causing factor and another code for the technology which caused the injury.
The following examples illustrate the application of these categories of analysis:
- In the event that a worker trips over a hose-pipe while walking and falls, striking his or her head against a table, the activity is walking, the injury event is tripping over the hose-pipe, and the mode of injury is striking the head against the table.
- While a worker is standing near a wall, a tank explodes, causing the wall to collapse on the victim. The activity is merely standing near the wall, the injury event is the explosion of the tank, and the mode of injury is the impact of the wall upon the victim.
Reporting Accident Information
The information to be obtained for each accident can be recorded in a report form similar to that shown in figure 1.
The information from the report form can be recorded on a computer by using classification keys. (Where international classification systems can be recommended, these are mentioned in the description of the individual information variables, given above.) Classifications for the other variables used to record occupational injuries have been developed by the Danish Working Environment Service, and principles to be used in establishing a harmonized recording system form part of a proposal drafted by the European Union.
The Use of Accident Statistics
Accident statistics form a valuable instrument in a wide range of contexts: mapping, monitoring and warning, prioritization of areas for prevention, specific prevention measures, and information retrieval and research. One area may overlap with another, but the principles of application vary.
Mapping of occupational accident data involves the extraction of predetermined sorts of information from an accumulation of registered data and the analysis of the interrelationships among them. The following examples will illustrate the utility of the mapping applications.
- Mapping of industrial sectors. Data relating to industrial sectors may be mapped by extracting an appropriate selection of the reports contained in a data register and carrying out the desired analysis. If a trade such as the building industry is of particular interest, reports registered with the International Standard Industrial Classification (ISIC) and coded from 50,000 to 50,199 (building and construction) can be selected. Reports for this trade can then be mapped to show, for example, the geographical location of the enterprises, and the age, sex and occupation of each accident victim.
- Mapping of injuries. If selection is based on a specific category of injuries, the reports can be extracted and mapped to show, for example, the trades in which these accidents occur, the occupational categories involved, the age groups affected, the activities in which the accidents occurred and the kind of technology most often involved.
- Mapping of enterprises. An evaluation on the enterprise level of accident trends (and thus of the internal work environment of the enterprise) can be carried out by mapping the notified occupational accidents that have occurred over a given time period. In addition, the enterprise will be able to compare its individual position with regard to technology, composition of personnel and other areas of concern with the trade as a whole, and thus determine whether its status in these respects is typical of the trade. Furthermore, if a trade proves to contain a number of typical work environment problems, it will be advisable to investigate whether these problems exist within the individual enterprise.
Monitoring and warning
Monitoring is an ongoing surveillance process accompanied by warning of major risks, and particularly of changes in such risks. Changes observed in incoming accident reports either may be indicative of changes in the pattern of reporting, or, more seriously, may reflect genuine changes in risk factors. Major risks may be said to exist where there is a high frequency of injuries, where many serious injuries occur and where there is a large human exposure group.
Establishment of priorities
Establishment of priorities is the selection of the most important risk areas or work-environment problems for preventive action. Through the results of mapping surveys and monitoring and warning activities, a register of occupational accidents can be built which can contribute to this establishment of priorities, the elements of which might include the following:
- risks involving serious consequences
- risks which carry a high probability of injury to a large proportion of the exposure group
- risks to which large groups of people are exposed.
Data drawn from a register of occupational accidents can be used in the establishment of priorities on several levels, perhaps at the overall national level or at the more particular enterprise level. Whatever the level, the analyses and assessments can be made on the basis of the same principles.
Analyses and documentation which are used for preventive purposes are generally highly specific and concentrated in limited areas which are, however, treated in great depth. An example of such an analysis is the campaign against fatal accidents conducted by the Danish National Labour Inspection Service. Preliminary mapping surveys identified the trades and work functions in which fatal accidents occurred. Farm tractors were selected as a focal area for analysis. The purpose of the analysis was then to determine what it was that made tractors so dangerous. Questions were investigated as to who drove them, where they were operated, when the accidents occurred and, in particular, what types of situations and events led to the accidents. The analysis produced a description of seven typical situations which most frequently led to accidents. Based on this analysis a preventive programme was formulated.
The number of occupational accidents in a single enterprise is often too small to yield workable statistics for preventive analysis. An analysis of the pattern of accidents may be able to be used to prevent repetition of specific injuries, but can hardly be successful in preventing the occurrence of accidents which in one way or another differ from earlier instances. Unless the focus of investigation is quite a large enterprise, such analyses are therefore best performed on a group of enterprises of very similar nature or on a group of production processes of the same type. For example, an analysis of the lumber industry shows that accidents occurring with cutting machines principally involve finger injuries. Transport accidents predominantly consist of foot and leg injuries, and brain damage and eczema are the most common hazards in the surface-treatment trade. A more detailed analysis of the relevant work processes within the industry can reveal which situations typically cause accidents. Based on this information, experts in the relevant industry can then pinpoint when such situations are likely to arise, and the possibilities for prevention.
Information retrieval and research
One of the most common uses of such information systems as filing and library systems is the retrieval of information of a specific and well-defined nature for the purpose of safety research. For instance, in a study whose aim was to formulate regulations concerning work on roofs, the doubt was raised whether any particular risk was attached to such work. The prevailing belief was that people were very seldom injured by falling from roofs while working. However, in this instance, a register of occupational accidents was used to retrieve all reports in which people had been injured by falling from roofs, and a considerable number of cases were indeed discovered, confirming the importance of continuing to formulate regulations in this area.