NEWS | July 5, 2011

What makes a mishap?

By Darnell Edmonds 628th Air Base Wing Safety Office

Have you ever heard someone say that avoiding mishaps is just using common sense? How about accidents happen, nothing is 100 percent safe? And I'm sure you've heard of Darwin's Theory equating injuries and mishaps to weeding out the weak ones and survival of the fittest.

Personally, I call these misconceptions.

As an occupational health and safety specialist, I've investigated numerous mishaps ranging from slips, trips and falls to severed fingers, hands and even fatalities. None of those people had a lack of common sense. Every single mishap was preventable or the severity of the mishap could have been reduced. Most importantly, the human race is not better off because we are "thinning the herd" by weeding out the weakest through accidents.

The common factor connecting these mishaps is a momentary lapse in judgment that created a bad day for some and a life altering event for others.

The Air Force defines a mishap as "an unplanned or unsought event or series of events resulting in death, injury, occupational illness or damage to, or loss of, equipment or property." The key words are unplanned and unsought.

How many of you leave your home in the morning with the idea of losing a finger, breaking a couple of bones or perhaps never returning at all? The key to mishap prevention is planning. If you look for and recognize the hazards at your job, driving, home and social life ... you've won half the battle. If you think you are somehow impervious to being involved in a mishap, you become complacent and complacency is a very common factor in mishaps.

When safety specialists conduct mishap investigations we piece together the chronology of the mishap. All mishaps have a chronology; a beginning and an end. The chain of events leading to a mishap usually begins days, months and sometimes even years before the actual mishap. This is where you and your actions come into play. The bad habits developed today and lack of hazard awareness usually starts the chain of events leading to a mishap. If you occasionally don't wear your seatbelt, that will predictably lead to your ejection from a vehicle someday. If you've removed the guards from your table saw, you have significantly increased the probability of losing a finger or hand.

Here are the keys to mishap prevention:

1. Don't give validity to those common misconceptions I mentioned at the beginning of this article. If you use those phrases ... find something else to say.

2. Look for and recognize hazards at your job, driving, home and off-duty.

3. Remember, the chain of events leading up to a mishap begins long before the mishap occurs.

Take care of yourself and those around you.