Letter from a Father - on "Accidents"

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Summary Statement

Letter from the father of a worker who was electrocuted, arguing that “accidents” stem from lack of safety procedures and policies.
November 9, 2005

Posted on Confined Space blog, http://spewingforth.blogspot.com, November 9, 2005

This came in today as a comment on the Weekly Toll of April 10, 2005 from the father of Donald Wilcher Smith who was electrocuted while working at Sanderson Farm's poultry processing plant. I thought everyone should see it:

In review of Confined Space, I found the 3rd article was about my son's death and felt drawn to comment.

As a safety professional with multiple years of field work experience, I know that to call something an "accident" is misleading. The definition of accident is something in effect that is going to happen no matter what the individual does, or how much or little is in prevention. Now, an "incident" is what I term something that happens and is preventable...largely through the human factor. In my 32 years in industrial manufacturing, 17 of those in the safety area, I have never seen an accident. BUT I have seen a lot of incidents.

Prevention is the key... and training along with ENFORCEMENT OF SAFETY RULES is integral to that key. ALL LEVELS OF MANAGEMENT must accept the Safety Culture, embrace it as second nature, and follow up with its charges to see that they too live in that culture.

Here is a safety axiom that I agree with: If you have a hazard, and there is exposure to it even for a short period of time,and over any (given) period of time where the exposure exists, THEN injury (incident) is CERTAIN TO OCCUR. (You may have heard this in several forms elsewhere... this just happens to be the wording that I teach to my managers.) The objective is to ELIMINATE THE HAZARD, whether it be through engineering out the hazard, training, guarding, etc.

I reflect more often these days about how I can have a positive effect on those around me, especially regarding their safety. I only wish all of Corporate America held the same view of safety as I do, but then, that's my job... right? I consider it a moral issue.

In closing, my son's death devastated my soul and caused me to reflect on my faith in God. Out of all this my objective surfaced: communicate the necessity of safety at any cost. A report my son gave last semester in one of his classes was on the 2004 Tsunami. He commented at one point when reviewing the costs of an early warning system,"After all, who can put a price on human life."

Here was my Agronomy major telling my story for me. How ironic is that?
-- Donald Coit Smith

Posted April 10, 2005:
Central Texas man killed by electrocution
College Station, TX- A 22-year-old Central Texas man is dead, following a tragic accident in Bryan this weekend. Donald Wilcher Smith of College Station was electrocuted at the Sanderson Farm's processing plant Saturday morning. Investigators with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration spent three days at the plant, but do not expect to complete their investigation for at least two months. Smith was born in Bryan, but grew up near Temple and attended Academy schools, graduating in 2000.