Making sense of tragedy
An Oregon OSHA investigator's mission
By Melanie Mesaros
Riffe said there are common themes to his investigations, including the focus on production, distractions, and complacency. Although production is – and in most cases must be – No. 1, the work must always be done safely. That is where an employer's commitment to safety really shows. If safety is not built into the process, the commitment is lacking. Distractions and complacency frequently result from a lack of accountability, he said.
"Too often, finger pointing is used in accident investigations. If the employer's goal is to find out who did it, they will never get to prevention. They need to ask, 'What went wrong?' and then look carefully for weaknesses or holes in their safety program and fix them to prevent future incidents," said Riffe.
One of the first things Riffe looks for during an investigation is the owner/operator manual or other manufacturer documents for the equipment, process, or products involved in an accident.
"Frequently, these documents provide a wealth of information regarding the potential hazards and the employer knowledge necessary to substantiate a violation. Unfortunately, it is rare that the information has been adequately considered or conveyed to employees before the incident occurs. It is pretty common to see safety meeting minutes that generically cover a wide variety of topics and never address the specific hazards of the equipment being used."
In the first few days after an accident, the family will frequently make contact with Riffe. Anger is a common emotion and those grieving also often want answers.
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