Five Warning Signs an Accident is Near – and How to Prevent One

by Brittany Willes, editor, Plastics Decorating

Author and accident prevention expert Brian Fielkow is well versed in recognizing the signs that a workplace accident is imminent. While it is important to understand the warning signs, that is only the first step in addressing accident prevention. The following are five of the top warning signs that an accident is near, along with Fielkow’s advice on how to prevent accidents in the future by creating a culture of safety – starting with leadership.

1.The near miss: Whether or not an accident was severe is a function of luck. Near misses and close calls often don’t get much attention; however, having no accidents that qualify as OSHA recordable while still having lots of accidents/injuries is not good. Leadership must take an active role in making sure there is a widely understood policy when it comes to reporting near misses. Leaders also have to be sure there is absolutely no retribution for reporting a near miss, because the first time someone is punished, that is the last time a report will be made. Lead by example. Safety will never take hold in an organization if it’s delegated instead of being owned by leadership.

2.Playing the blame game: When an accident occurs, too many people scramble to assign fault and let that be the beginning and end of the inquiry. A culture of blame will not yield a culture of prevention. After every accident, no matter how minor, a root cause analysis should be performed by people who weren’t necessarily involved with the incident and who can take a fresh look. The reality is that, in most cases, there are a lot of layers to an accident, and one of the biggest failures is when an organization doesn’t look at the systemic failures involved. Leadership has to be the one saying “We’re here to get at the root cause, and when we find fault we’ll find fault, but we’re not going to have an argument where every department blames the other.”

3.Communication failure: If employees aren’t reporting signs of trouble – either for fear of retaliation or a “not my department, not my problem” mindset – it’s a sure way of setting the business up for an accident. The job of leadership is to be sure they are communicating effectively and not allowing the teams to function in silos of “safety is not my responsibility” mentality. A company-wide culture must be created – starting with leadership – that ensures all employees know that safety is not a department, it is a way of life.

4.Cutting corners: Ultimately, a lack of respect for the process, cutting corners or skipping steps is a great way to save time or money – until it isn’t. What companies have to understand is that sometimes they may outgrow their processes. What made sense five years ago may not make sense today. They have to be willing to re-evaluate and re-examine those processes. The last thing they should be doing is holding employees responsible for following something that makes no sense in today’s business environment. Another big problem is that leadership has a responsibility to make sure the processes are understandable. They have to be simple, clear and up-to-date in order to have the best chance at avoiding repeating the same mistakes. If the process doesn’t make sense, rewrite it. Once it’s on the books, people need to comply with it. Processes should also be developed to some extent by the company’s own team – they’re the ones who know what works best. Once those processes have been established, it must be made clear there is zero tolerance for cutting corners.

5.Happy talk: Companies cannot lie to themselves and say everything is fine when it’s not. If they’re seeing a high frequency of accidents, then looking the other way instead of having an honest discussion with their teams guarantees one of those frequent incidents will become a big accident. Frequently, there is too much sugar coating, too many “accidents happen; we’ll be more careful next time” excuses. This goes hand in hand with the blame game, and it is incumbent upon management – and everyone else – to put a stop to it. Leadership has to resist the urge to sweep problems under the rug. Instead, they have to be involved in understanding the root cause of every incident. Accidents typically follow patterns, and if those patterns are only being looked at after a major accident/injury occurs, that’s a missed opportunity to get ahead and have a better chance of preventing the issue entirely.

With more than 30 years of executive leadership experience in both public and privately held companies, Brian Fielkow advises companies big and small on issues of safety, accident prevention and corporate culture. He is the author of several books, including “Leading People Safely: How to Win on the Business Battlefield.” For more information, visit