In 2002, U.S. scheduled air carriers had 10 million departures. They flew over 7 billion miles while accumulating 17 million flight hours. During this time, they experienced a remarkable safety record of 34 total accidents of which zero involved fatalities. That translated to 0.195 accidents per 100,000 flight hours and 0.0048 accidents per 1 million miles flown. (a.) Conversely, in 2002, U.S workplaces experienced 4.7 million OSHA Recordable Injury & Illness Cases. U.S. workers had 2.5 million Lost Workday cases and suffered 5,524 traumatic workplace fatalities. Furthermore, it is estimated that tens of thousands of other workplace deaths can be attributed to chronic occupational diseases each year. During 2002, 5.3 of every 100 employees in the U.S. experienced an OSHA Recordable Case. During that same time, 2.8 of every 100 workers experienced Lost Workday cases. Tragically, five out of every 100,000 workers died on the job in 2002. (b.) Although traditional workplaces have improved their safety performance over the years, they are still considerably worse than the in flight safety performance logged by U.S. air carriers.
Historical data suggests that pilot or other human error cause roughly 60% of airplane crashes. Another 20% of crashes result from mechanical problems. In traditional workplaces, it is widely accepted by most that the vast majority of accidents are the result of unsafe worker actions. A minority results from unsafe workplace conditions in today's work environments. Both combined surpass 90%. With similar causes of accidents in both environments, how is it that the airline industry's safety performance can significantly outpace that of traditional workplaces?
To understand why airplanes rarely crash, we need to consider the following. First, pilots are highly trained before there are allowed to fly and then continually retrained on hazard recognition and avoidance. Second, maintenance of airplanes is highly regulated and preventative in nature. Third, operating systems on planes are redundant. Fourth, pilots audit their "workplace" before, during, and after they fly, and their conformance to standards are closely monitored. Finally, pilots know, with great certainty, that they will pay the ultimate consequence for taking shortcuts.
On the other hand, workers have accidents in typical workplaces more frequently for the following reasons. Employees aren't highly trained to spot and deal with workplace hazards. In most workplaces, safety training, at best, consists of covering a handful of regulatory required subjects. Training is conducted by some employers for new employees, annually for existing employees covering some subjects and as needed for other subjects. Training and retraining, in most cases, does focus on task-specific hazards encountered by employees daily, which are causing the bulk of the injuries. Physical facility maintenance, in most workplaces, is not preventative and redundant safety protections are not built in to most typical work processes, eading to accidents.