Managing Accident Prone EmployeesWednesday, September 7th, 2011
You may be unlucky enough to find yourself with an accident prone employee, either because you see the same name recurring in your accident book or because, whereas some people drop things now and again, one employee does so regularly. Well, drops things, trips where there is nothing to trip over, cuts a finger on blunt objects, things like that. So need you do anything other than shrug your shoulders and smile? The answer to that question is an emphatic “Yes” because, however clumsy employees may be, you have a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act to safeguard their health, safety and welfare at work. And also, if these accidents cause them to have time off work, your operations are disrupted. Accident proneness is not recognised in law and is not a defence if an employee decides to sue you for injury so yes, you have a problem that needs resolving.
Presumably the employee does not enjoy accidents, so disciplinary sanctions are hardly likely to have any effect, therefore you need to try to discover why the person is so accident prone. Call the employee into a private room and start a conversation. Adopt the attitude that you are sympathetic rather than annoyed, which should enable the employee to engage with you in finding out what is going on so that, between you, you can sort it out. Point out the number of observed accidents, and explain that this is unacceptable to both of you, then go on to encourage the employee to think and talk about what may be the underlying cause. You may find that there are domestic problems that are causing lack of concentration in which case see if you can offer any help to resolve them. Maybe there are problems with the job or some other aspect of work, for example bullying or harassment which may not be obvious, may seem to you to be inoffensive but cause distress to the employee. You may feel it wise to adjourn the interview and leave the employee with a few questions to ponder in time for a subsequent meeting.
If the employee is still unable to explain the causes of his or her high accident rate you will have to investigate further yourself. Accidents occur if a person and a hazard come together, therefore look at both the person and the situations in which he or she appears. Is the person suited to the job? If not, will training resolve the problem? Does the employee have any form of disability that might affect his or her ability to perform the job safely? If so, you need to take steps to overcome the difficulty, especially if the employee is protected by the Disability Discrimination Act. Looking then at the environment, do these accidents occur only within the employee’s own work area or in the workplace generally? The former suggests that there is a hazard in the work area, one that perhaps is not recognised by other people who are more used to their local environment, but that nevertheless needs tackling. For example the employee may work closer than other people to a door that is constantly opening or to a machine that frequently switches on and off, thus interfering with concentration. But you have a greater problem if the employee has accidents all over the place. This is not to say that there are no hazards elsewhere in the workplace, so do make sure that you have regular and thorough inspections, but it suggests that the problem lies within the employee.
Work hard at having the employee accept that he or she is suffering significantly more accidents than anyone else and at trying to identify the underlying cause. Emphasise that you cannot wrap him in cotton wool, you cannot run the risk of him having a serious injury and you cannot risk his carelessness causing other people to injure themselves. If this still does not resolve the problem, then you need to invoke your procedure for dealing with incapability. Explain that the high accident incidence puts his or her employment at risk. Make a final attempt to help and, if that fails, try to redeploy the person into another more suitable job. If that fails, you really have no alternative but to dismiss on grounds of incapability. A great pity, but dismissal will be the only remaining way for you to remove the person from danger in your workplace.