Prevention of Catastrophic Workplace Accidents

Each year in both the US and the EU there are several catastrophic accidents in a variety of industries. These accidents, though infrequent, have enormous impact on the workers and their families, the companies, and the industry as a whole. They can also have an effect on a nation, as was seen when the Deep Water Horizon had its accident in the Gulf of Mexico.

Many factors cause or contribute to any catastrophic accident. Some are unique to the specific enterprise or industry, but others may have relevance across multiple workplaces and industries. Detailed accident investigations have explored the causes and contributory factors leading up to the 2005 BP Texas City Explosion, 2008 Imperial Sugar Dust Explosion, 2010 Kleen Energy Natural Gas Explosion, and 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine Explosion. Cross-cutting lessons may be learned from these and other incidents and the examination of near-misses so that the loss of life can stop.


To evaluate these and other major catastrophes and near misses to identify common factors that transcend the specific failures, and to develop recommendations for action that may enable governments, businesses, and workers to prevent future tragic incidents.

Proposed Sub-Topics:

  1. On the investigations studied, identify those causes and contributing factors that appear to be common to these incidents. Attempt to assess qualitatively and, where possible, quantitatively, the relative significance (strength) of the causes and contributing factors as common elements in catastrophic incidents. Be sure to include a focus on broader organizational issues such as culture and climate, leadership commitment and change management.
    1. Focus Questions:
      1. Assuming common elements can be identified, how confident can we be that they may be applicable beyond the incidents evaluated?
      2. What additional information, study or evaluation could result in more confidence that these common elements are broadly applicable?
  2. Based on the identification of these common elements as well as other characteristics of enterprises or industries where catastrophic accidents or near misses have occurred, determine methods, measures and practices for predicting and preventing catastrophic accidents. Develop a framework for and key provisions of a potential universal standard or guideline around catastrophic incident prevention.
    1. Focus Questions:
      1. Are there some current best practices/guidelines for catastrophic incident prevention in the non-chemical process industries?
      2. Does a management systems or process safety management approach provide a useful framework for a general catastrophic incident prevention standard/guideline?
      3. Other?
  3. Examine how the findings and determinations in 1 and 2, above contribute to our understanding about the bigger picture of the prevention of all fatalities and serious injuries in the workplace.
    1. Focus Questions:
      1. What, if any, important differences are there between the key elements of a catastrophic incident prevention program or approach and a program that focuses on all fatalities and serious injuries?
      2. Other?

Proposed Outcomes:

  1. The development of recommendations for key provisions of a possible global standard or guideline on the prevention of catastrophic incidents
  2. Development of a joint US/EU incident database, where the causes of accidents and the circumstances of near misses can begin to be collected and studied for better modeling and prediction for improved prevention.
  3. Outreach to all industries with the information of the study concerning these common themes with possible solutions that could be applied in any situation or for any size company.