From time to time I write a blog post titled “Not an accident.” These posts highlight the name of a recent workplace-fatality victim and also challenge the often-used term “accident” to describe such an event.
The hazards that lead to workers being killed on job—from being pulled into or crushed by machinery to falling from a roof— are well-understood and can be addressed. Yet most worker fatalities are described by police spokespersons as “accidents” and the term is then repeated in local press accounts. Could the press instead communicate how such incidents could be averted?
Several researchers involved in agricultural injury prevention have been exploring that topic. Dr. Barbara Marlenga and colleagues examined 113 news accounts from 2012 to 2014 of farm injuries involving children. They published their results in this month’s issue of the Journal of Agromedicine.
In 79 percent of the accounts, a local law enforcement official was the originating source of the incident information. The news coverage that followed relayed the source and mechanism of the injury (such as tractor and rollover, or animal and pinned) nearly 100 percent of the time. In contrast, less than 8 percent of the time did the news account include a prevention message. In those rare cases, the authors found the prevention messages too general to be useful, such as:
- “be extremely careful around farm equipment”
- “stay alert and pay attention”
Marlenga and her colleagues offered examples of messages they consider more instructive:
- “follow guidelines for age-appropriate work”
- “no riders in loaded buckets”
- “institute safe storage practices”
The authors ask and so do I, how would we go about getting news organizations to include prevention messages in their reporting on worker fatalities and serious injuries?
In just the last few days, workers died from traumatic injuries in Cheltenham, PA; Rib Mountain, WI; Milwaukee, WI; Mecklenburg, NC; Maryville, TN; Waltham, MA; Detroit, MI, and other locations. Next week, worker fatalities will occur in different cities. How could one go about outreach to news organizations—outreach that takes place before an incident occurs—to encourage a prevention message be included in news coverage of work-related fatalities.
Or, as Marlenga and her colleagues suggest, should the outreach about prevention messages be directed at law enforcement agencies? They are after all the source of information for a majority of the media reports of the worker fatality incidents.
Then I wonder, if we figured out who could provide the prevention message, could we agree on what that message should be?
In a news account about a worker who fell to his death from a 12 foot ladder, would any of these be an appropriate prevention message?
- “OSHA requires fall protection for work above 6 feet”
- “Employers are required to provide fall protection”
- “Place a ladder on a stable, level surface”
- “Place a barricade around a ladder to keep equipment or people from moving it”
Does it matter if the prevention message is not necessarily relevant to the circumstances of the incident?
The paper by Marlenga and colleagues, “News reports and their role in child agricultural injury prevention” intrigued me. I appreciate papers that stir up lots of questions.