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Chapter 3

Accidents in Construction
Why do accidents happen in construction?

Physical hazards
Environmental hazards
Human factors
No safety regulations or poor ones
Poor communication within, between, and among
various trades working on a job site

Accidents should not be viewed as inevitable

just because hazards exist.

For every accident that occurs, there is a

Chapter 3

Theories of Accident Causation

The most widely known theories of

accident causation:

Domino theory
Human factors theory
Accident / incident theory
Epidemiological theory
Systems theory
Combination theory
Behavioral theory

Accident-Proneness Theory
Goals-Freedom-Alertness Theory

Chapter 3

Domino Theory
Herbert W. Heinrich Travelers Insurance

In the late 1920s, studying reports of 75,000

workplace accidents, he concluded the following:

88% of accidents are caused by unsafe acts committed by fellow
10% of accidents are caused by unsafe conditions
2% of accidents are unavoidable
Contemporary research considers domino theory as outdated
however todays more widely accepted theories can be traced back to
Heinrichs study.

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Axioms of Workplace Safety

Conclusions laid foundation for Axioms of

Industrial Safety (came to be known as the
Domino Theory)

Injuries result from a completed series of factors, one of which

is the accident itself.
An accident can occur only as the result of an unsafe act by a
person or a physical or mechanical hazard, or both.
Most accidents are the result of unsafe behavior by people.
An unsafe act by a person or an unsafe condition does not
always immediately result in an accident or injury.
The reasons why people commit unsafe acts can serve as helpful
guides in selecting corrective actions.
The severity of an accident is largely fortuitous, and the accident
that caused it is largely preventable.
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Axioms of Workplace Safety


The best accident prevention techniques are analogous with the

best quality and productivity standards.
8. Management should assume responsibility for safety because it
is in the best position to get results.
9. The supervisor is the key person in the prevention of workplace
10. In addition to the direct costs of an accident (i.e., compensation,
liability claims, medical costs, and hospital expenses), there are
also hidden or indirect costs.

Heinrich believed any safety programs taking all

10 axioms into consideration will likely be
Chapter 3

Domino Theory

Five factors in sequence leading to an accident:


Ancestry and social environment. Negative character traits that

may lead people to behave in an unsafe manner can be inherited
(ancestry) or acquired as a result of the social environment.
Fault of person. Negative character traits, whether inherited or
acquired, are why people behave in an unsafe manner and why
hazardous conditions exist.
Unsafe acts and mechanical or physical hazards. Unsafe acts
committed by people and mechanical or physical hazards are the
direct causes of accidents.
Accident. Typically, accidents that result in injury are caused by
falling or being hit by moving objects.
Injury. Typical injuries resulting from accidents include
lacerations and fractures.

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Domino Theory
Two central points:
Injuries are caused by preceding factors
By removing the unsafe act or hazardous condition,
the action of these preceding factors is negated and
the accidents/injuries are prevented.

Chapter 3

Domino Theory - Example

Construction Products Company (CPC) is a

distributor of lumber, pipe and concrete products.

Warehouse personnel load most of the orders by

hand therefore they are required to wear personal

protective gear
Management observed increases in minor injuries

among personnel during summer months.

However during the last summer they suffered
from the serious back injuries of two workers.

Chapter 3

Domino Theory - Example

Investigation revealed a series of events and

a central causal behavior which created a

domino effect.
Personal protective gear becomes uncomfortable
due to hot weather and loaders take it off.
This situation increases the number of minor
injuries but management does not pay attention due
to the nature of injuries. Therefore it was probably
inevitable to suffer from more serious injuries.
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Domino Theory - Example

Removing the causal factor - the failure of warehouse personnel to use
their personal protective gear during summer months.
Forming a committee.
Committees recommendations:
1. Provide all warehouse personnel with training on the importance and
proper use of personal protection
2. Require warehouse supervisors to monitor the use of personal protection
gear more closely
3. Establish a company policy that contains specific and progressive
disciplinary measures for failure to use required personal protection gear
4. Implement several heat reduction measures to make warehouses cooler.

Chapter 3


Human Factors Theory

David Meister's, Human Factors: Theory

and Practice, 1971

Attributes accidents to a chain of events
ultimately caused by human error.
Consists of three broad factors that lead to
human error:
Inappropriate Response
Inappropriate Activities
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Factors Leading to Human Error



Human Error Factors


Chapter 3

CEE 698 Construction Health and Safety


Capacity product of such factors as a

persons natural ability, training, state of

mind, fatigue, stress, and physical condition.
Load consisting of tasks for which a person
is responsible and added burdens resulting
from environmental factors (noise, heat),
internal factors (personal problems, stress),
and situational factors (unclear instructions).
State the product of a persons motivational
Overload an imbalance between a persons
capacity at a any given time and the load that
the personis carrying in a given state.
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Inappropriate Response or
How a person responds to a given situation

can cause or prevent an accident.

Inappropriate response occurs when:
A person detects a hazardous condition but does
nothing to correct it
A person disregards an established safety

Incompatibility of a persons workstation

with regard to size, force, reach, feel and

factors can lead to accidents and
CEE 698 Construction Health and Safety

Chapter 3

Inappropriate Activities
Human error can be result of inappropriate

Person who undertakes a task that he / she does not
know how to do.
A person who misjudges the degree of risk
involved in a given task and proceeds on that

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CEE 698 Construction Health and Safety


Human Factors Theory

Chapter 3


Human Factors Theory Example

Jones Cabinets & Construction Company

sees rapid growth in sales which

overwhelmed companys work force.
New teams of cabinet makers and installers
Authorized unlimited overtime.
Numbers of accidents and injuries
Chapter 3


Human Factors Theory Example

Investigation revealed human errors in the

three categories:
Employees working beyond their personal limits and beyond
their capabilities.
Stress, insufficient training and fatigue

Inappropriate response:
Carpenters removing the safeguards to speed up construction.

Inappropriate activities:
Assigning employees to duties for which they are not fully
Chapter 3


Accident / Incident Theory

Extension of human factors theory
Developed by Dan Petersen
New elements:
Ergonomic traps
The decision to err
Systems failures

Chapter 3


Accident/Incident Theory

Chapter 3


Accident / Incident Theory

Some of the reasons why systems may fail:
1. Management does not establish a comprehensive


safety policy
Responsibility and authority with regard to safety
are not clearly defined
Safety procedures, such as measurement, inspection,
correction, and investigation, are ignored or given
insufficient attention.
Employees do not receive proper orientation
Employees are not given sufficient safety training
Chapter 3


Accident / Incident Theory Example

Panhandle Precast Concrete has developed

a well-earned reputation as a safe

When the safety manager of the firm, Jack
Bond, was elected as the president of a
statewide safety organization, safety
problems within the firm began.
Jack Bond neglected his duties at PPC.
Workers stopped following the safety
precautions once they realized he had

Chapter 3

Epidemiological Theory
Epidemiology: Study of causal relationships

between environmental factors and disease.

Epidemiological theory holds that the
models used for studying and determining
these relationships can also be used to study
casual relationships between environmental
factors and accidents.
Predisposition Characteristics
Situational Characteristics

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Epidemiological Theory

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CEE 698 Construction Health and Safety


Epidemiological Theory Example

Jane Andrews was the newest member of the loading unit

for Construction Products, Inc.

She had 2 days of training on proper lifting techniques
before beginning the work and mandatory use of backsupport belts
Her supervisor and colleagues pressured to disregard the
proper lifting methods she learned in training.
She followed her supervisor and after 2 months had to
undergo major surgery to repair two ruptured disks.
Predisposition factor: Her susceptibility to pressure from
her coworkers and supervisor
Situational factors: Peer pressure and priorities of
Chapter 3

Systems Theory
System a group of regularly interacting and interrelated

components that together form a unified whole.

An accident may occur as a system which is composed of:

The likelihood of an accident to occur is determined by how

these components interact.

Example: A worker who temporarily replaces an experienced
crane operator increases the probability of an accident.

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CEE 698 Construction Health and Safety


Systems Theory
The primary components of the systems model are

the person, machine, environment, and information;

decisions; risks; and the task to be performed.
Each of these components has a bearing on the
probability that an accident will occur.

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CEE 698 Construction Health and Safety


Systems Theory
Factors which should be considered before

collecting information, weighing risks and

making a decision:

job requirements
the workers abilities and limitations
the gain if the task is successfully accomplished
the loss if the task is attempted but fails
the loss if the task is not attempted

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CEE 698 Construction Health and Safety


Systems Theory - Example

Construction Service Company (CSC) makes customized trusses

for residential construction jobs.

Workers including the apprentices use manually operated
machines which causes two problems:

It is difficult for even experienced workers to make clean accurate cuts

Machines are so old that they frequently break down.

While working under a major contract, an apprentice gets

careless and runs his hand into the saw blade.

The person-machine-environment chain:
Person involved was inexperienced.
Machine involved was old and prone to breakdown
The environment was stressful and pressure-packed.

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CEE 698 Construction Health and Safety


Combination Theory
Often the cause of an accident cannot be

adequately described by one theory.

Differences between the theory and reality
may exist.
Combination theory helps explain the actual
cause of an accident by combining different
parts of several theories.
Chapter 3


Combination Theory - Example

Crestview Construction Company (CCC) maintains

four large warehouses .

Ventilation of these warehouses are important and the
vent filters need to be changed periodically.
Changing the vents filter involves two potential
Unvented dust and fumes can make breathing difficult.
Vents are located 110 feet above the ground level, which
can be accessed through a narrow cat walk that has kneehigh guardrails.
Chapter 3


Combination Theory - Example

CCC has well defined rules which are strictly enforced.
However an employee fell from the catwalk while he was trying

to change one of the filter. His lifeline held him for 20 minutes.
When he panicked and tried to pull himself up he knocked the
buckle of his safety harness open and fell to the concrete floor,
breaking his neck.
Critical factors:
Absence of supervisor
Inexperience of worker
A conscious decision by the worker to disregard the safety
A faulty buckling mechanism on the safety harness
An unsafe design (only a knee-high guardrail on the catwalk)

Chapter 3


Behavioral Theory
Referred to as Behavior-based safety

E. Scott Geller Safety Performance
Solutions, Inc., and professor of
Believes in 7 basic principles of BBS:
1. Use intervention that is focused on employee
2. Identify external factors that aid in understanding
and improving employee behavior.
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Behavioral Theory
3. Direct behavior with activator or events antecedent to
the desired behavior, and motivate employees to
behave as desired with incentives and rewards that
follow desired behavior.
4. Focus on the positive consequences that result from
the desired behavior as a way to motivate employees.
5. Apply scientific method to improve attempts at
behavioral interventions.
6. Use theory to integrate information rather than to
limit possibilities.
7. Plan interventions with the feelings and attitudes of
the individual employee in mind.

Chapter 3


BBS and ABC Model

Behavior-based safety trainers and consultants
teach the ABC model (or three-term
contingency) as a framework to understand and
analyze behavior or to develop interventions
for improving behavior. As given in BBS
principle 3the A stands for activators or
antecedent events that precede behavior (B),
and C refers to the consequences following
behavior or produced by it. Activators direct
behavior, whereas consequences motivate
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BBS and ABCO Model

Outcome refers to the longer-term results of engaging
in safe or unsafe behavior. For example, an
antecedent of a sign requiring employees to wear
safety goggles could produce the behavior of
putting on the goggles, the consequence of avoiding
an eye injury, and the outcome of being able to
continue working and enjoying time with the family.
One the other hand, the consequence of not wearing
goggles could be an eye injury with a potential
outcome of blindness, time off the job, and a
reduced quality of life. Failure to address the issue
of outcomes represents a lost opportunity to give
employees a good reason for engaging in safe
Chapter 3

Behavioral Theory - Example

Jack Coker decided to apply the ABC

model in turning the unsafe behavior

pattern of the workers (not wearing hard
hats) in Bonded Builders, Inc.
1. He removed the old Hard Hat Area signs and
replaced them with newer, more noticeable signs.
2. He scheduled a brief seminar on head injuries in
which he told a story of two employees. One was
in a hospital bed surrounded by family members
he did not even recognize; the other was shown
enjoying a family outing with happy family
Chapter 3

Accident Proneness Theory

Greenwood and Woods mark the start of the

modern theory of accident-proneness. Before them

sooth-sayers and fortune-tellers had peddled
individual forecasts about luck and misfortune for
many hundreds of years.

Chapter 3

Accident-Proneness Theory
Old View
Injuries happen to people who have a genetic
predisposition to being injured
The theory states that there are inherent

characteristics of some individuals that

predispose them to a greater probability of
being involved in accidents.
Chapter 3

Accident-Proneness Theory
A very controversial theory
Many research studies have been conducted

which lend support for the theory (Studies show

injuries are not randomly distributed, but do
studies recognize differences in hazard
Other studies have shown that there is no basis
for the theory

Chapter 3

Accident-Proneness Theory
New View
Recent researchers view accident proneness as
being associated with the propensity of
individuals to take risks or to take chances.
This presents a more positive view for safety,
as behavior can be altered even if the
propensity to take risks cannot.
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(By Kerr)

Chapter 3

Goals-Freedom-Alertness Theory

This is a fundamental concept that accidents are

the result of low quality (unsafe) behavior

resulting from an unrewarding psychological
climate that does not contribute to mental

Chapter 3

Goals-Freedom-Alertness Theory
Workers should have the ability to set

attainable goals.
Workers should have the freedom to pursue
their goals.
This will result in a rich work climate with
alertness and fewer accidents (Workers stay

Chapter 3


Chapter 3

Adjustment Stress Theory

A negative work environment contributes to

accident causation.
A negative work environment is often caused
by stress.
Excessive stress prevents the individual from
focusing on the work.
Chapter 3

Adjustment Stress Theory

Stress comes from many sources.
On the Job
Poor relationship with the supervisor
Poor relationship with crew members
Harsh deadlines
Poor coordination
Excessive rework
Cost overruns
Long overtime commitments
Crowded work areas
Jobsite hazards

Chapter 3

Adjustment Stress Theory

Stress comes from many Sources.
Off the Job
Poor relationship with the spouse
sick child
mortgage due date

Chapter 3