If you are feeling the world is less safe than it used to be this is likely due to the increased number of news stories on various types of system failures. Take the many recent close calls between moving planes on runways across the country that prompted the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to open a number of investigations and issue safety alerts urging greater attention to safety protocols and mitigation of risks. The number of altercations between passengers in the cabin has also risen dramatically with more than 5,700 incidents of air rage reported by the FAA on U.S. airlines in 2021 alone when compared on a typical baseline of 100 to 150 cases.
Safety concerns, however, are not limited to aviation. Railways have also seen an increase in accidents, including train derailments. Consider the spate of railway derailments, including in Ohio and North Dakota, resulting in not only physical damage but dangerous chemical contamination of air, land, and water resources in the surrounding communities. In response, the CEO of Norfolk Southern Railroad pledged, “Moving forward, we are going to rebuild our safety culture from the ground up. We are going to invest more in safety….”
Industrial and construction accidents are also on the rise. Train derailments are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to chemical contamination accidents. According to one analysis of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data, chemical accidents are occurring on average of one every two days. Serious construction site accidents are also rising rapidly in major metro areas including Boston and New York. In one recent high-profile incident, a chocolate plant in Pennsylvania was destroyed and lives lost after a devastating explosion in March 2023.
When it comes to oversight of these industries, the governmental agency charged with overseeing workplace safety, Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), does not appear to be properly equipped. For example, according to a news article, in Massachusetts, in 2022 there were only 38 OSHA inspectors for every 91,210 workers with an estimated 169 year cycle to visit each workplace just once.
Moreover, when accidents happen, the hospitals entrusted with caring for the injured may not be much safer. Understaffed hospitals are a chronic problem, with significant shortfalls across the board often impacting the quality of patient care. With today’s increased emphasis on profits, hospitals are slower to respond to patient care issues, further leading to quality concerns. Even pharmacists have been impacted, increasing the likelihood for medication errors. What does all of this mean? It means that industry systems must be continually changed and updated to account for new and rising safety concerns. As individuals, we are responsible for our own safety; however, there is only so much we can control. For those matters outside of individual control, corporate and industry responsibility requires safety measures be implemented and working properly. When safety measures do not exist or fail, injury and damage often result – sometimes in catastrophic fashion. In these circumstances, those responsible for such injury and failures, should be held accountable. Accountability is necessary as it fosters responsibility and safer systems.