Every Injured has a Story to Tell: analysing organisational preconditions for occupational accidents in the Swedish food industry

The continuing high frequency of occupational accidents in the Swedish food industry calls for new approaches in order to identify and describe the underlying factors. In the present thesis, therefore, occupational accidents were investigated from the operator’s perspective, in order to explore the organisational preconditions. Two studies were carried out based on 54 accidents involving to hand injuries. In-depth interviews were conducted with operators and their supervisors. 24 interviews were analysed using the qualitative grounded theory method. Two core categories were found. The first was the perception of the accident process at operative level. The second was organisational preconditions at strategic level, enhancing the risk for occupational accidents. These preconditions were represented by open factors, which were deficiencies in technical and human organisational systems, and concealed factors, represented by insufficient communication and learning, high responsibility in combination with low control, conflicting goals, and a gap between procedure and practice. The organisational preconditions affected the accident process and the workers’ perception leading to risk acceptance, resignation towards improved safety and overconfidence in one’s own ability. This was the background of ‘normal’ in which context the accidents occurred and safety was constructed. Through the analysis a five-step hypothesis was empirically generated. The second study was based on the injury reports of the same 54 accidents. Analysis revealed that 15% of the accidents were influenced by the technical design of the workplace, 17 % by safety equipment on machines and 30% by working methods. In 39% of the accidents no measures were taken to prevent further accidents. The injury reports complemented the interviews, confirming that the safety approach used by the companies to control production systems, safety equipment and safety rules were insufficient to reveal and reduce the risks and protect operators from injuries. A new perspective on safety w needs to be introduced in order to addressing the underlying preconditions and achieve effective safety management. A prerequisite for this is insight into norms and beliefs that influence risks and safety.

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