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Break the Cycle of Repeated Accidents

Sandy sprained her ankle on the job Tuesday. A week later, she threw her back out. Two months later, she was on sick leave for neck problems.

Co-workers easily could label someone like Sandy a complete klutz. But generalizations about accident repeaters usually are mistaken, according to Robert Pater, managing director of Strategic Safety Associates of Portland, Ore. "No one is inherently accident-prone," Mr. Pater says, "but it's common for many people to experience a certain period in their lives when they have a bunch of repeat accidents."

These incidents may be caused by personal stress overload, strong emotions, poor physical condition, bad posture or external factors.

"The biggest problem is when you start to believe that you really are clumsy or accident-prone," says Mr. Pater, whose firm provides safety consulting and training services to businesses worldwide. "People with a fatalistic view tend not to take action to free themselves from the accident repetition cycle."

If accidents or injuries dog you in clusters, raise your attention level and keep it raised, Mr. Pater recommends. "Then, say to yourself, 'I can take control here, I'm not a victim. I don't want to put up with getting hurt any longer.'"

No one is clumsy by nature, Mr. Pater says. "Be aware, take control, help to prevent further injuries to yourself and others. We can all do it -- it's a learnable skill."

Tips to help take control of safety

  • Let your supervisor know about potential hazards so future problems can be prevented. Those hazards include insufficient lighting, poor housekeeping or awkward workstation layouts.

  • Consider whether you're being affected by stress. Are you facing personal problems? Is your workplace going through major change? Stress can limit awareness and contribute to accidents.

  • Don't skip meals. Hunger can cause mental or physical stress and fatigue, increasing injury risk.

  • Stretch and warm up before physical labor. In addition, get regular exercise to reduce the risk of strains and sprains and improve reaction time.

  • Maintain healthy posture. When you slump, your body weight collapses on your diaphragm. That keeps you from breathing deeply, so less oxygen reaches the brain. That impairs your attentiveness, awareness, judgment and balance. Breathe deeply, into your diaphragm and hips.

  • Get prompt treatment for injuries. One injury can lead to another. For example, foot pain can cause you to place your weight on a different part of your foot, which can lead to knee pain. Low back injury can lead to neck pain.

  • Check for side effects if you take medications. Prescription or over-the-counter drugs might affect your balance, judgment or reaction time.

  • Bone up on safety training.