The Secret to a Successful Safety Program Lies Within the Pyramids
 May. 25, 2011

No, we’re not saying you need to travel to Egypt and visit the great pyramids in order to create a successful safety program, but pyramids do come into play. We're referring to the Cause Pyramid. The Cause Pyramid is a tool that safety managers can use to break down the cause components of an accident. This could be a work-related injury or the cause factors associated with an auto accident. For the purpose of this discussion, we're going to focus on work-related injuries. They, of course, are the basis of workers’ compensation claims and these types of claims drive a manufacturer’s workers’ compensation insurance costs.

To prevent work- related    injuries companies    need to    understand what causes the injuries in their operation. Once a company understands the causes of their work-related injuries they can establish safety practices to either eliminate an injury cause or reduce the chance that a given cause will result in a work-related injury. Injuries do not arise out of a single cause, but instead they are the end result from the interrelationship of several cause types:

  • Direct Cause of the Accident- the direct cause is the immediate event or condition that precipitated the accident. For example, the employee’s power saw blade contacted the power source to the saw in the neighboring work station.
  • Contributing Causes of the Accident - contributing causes are events or conditions that do not individually cause the accident, but in combination with other causes increase the likelihood of an accident occurring. Often these are long-standing conditions or a series of events that were necessary to allow the direct cause to occur or increased the probability that it would occur. For example, during the rainy season drain water crosses a pathway and increases the chance of a slip and fall.
  • Root Causes of Accident- root causes are the real causes of an accident, not just a symptom. For example,    the    root cause of the accident involving a saw blade contacting a power source is that a workstation inspection was not completed to identify potential hazards prior to operating power equipment.

Root causes can be addressed by training and inspection and addressing root causes will lead to the elimination of the direct cause of a work related injury. Root causes can affect employee behavior and behaviors are what lead to unsafe acts. The greatest proportion of work-related injuries grow out of unsafe acts as opposed to unsafe conditions or hazards. Successful safety programs apply resources to address the root causes of work-related injuries because addressing root causes affects employeebehavior.

Using an Accident Pyramid to breakdown accident causes is an effective way to quickly analyze why and how a work-related injury occurred. Although usually there will be only one direct cause of any accident, there can be multiple contributing and root causes. Again making certain your safety training addresses the root causes will greatly reduce the chance of the accident reoccurring.

The Accident Pyramid is part of an overall accident analysis. Safety managers should not complete their accident analysis in a vacuum. The injured employee is the most critical source of cause information. They play a vital role in your safety program. Ask them to share the details of exactly what they were doing when the accident occurred. If need be, encourage employees injured on the job to re-enact or reconstruct the accident so you can see the step-by-step activity progression that culminated in the work-related injury under review.

It's not enough to understand how an accident occurred; manufacturers must take steps to avoid the recurrence of accidents by eliminating the root causes. Chances are that if an accident occurred once, and training is not applied to address the root cause(s) of the accident, it will recur.

If you have questions about accident prevention and investigation please contact us at the CMTA Group Workers’ Compensation Program at


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