All accidents are NOT preventable

So I work for a company that made its employees take a “safety perception survey” to see how employees viewed the importance of maintaining a safe workplace. They asked a bunch of questions and the employees were required to select answers where one answer would represent the “lowest” regard for safety all the way up to one showing the “highest” regard. Although the answers weren’t labeled as such, it wasn’t too difficult to tell what answer they were looking for (side note - a person who gets good grades in school doesn’t really need to know the answers so much as perceive the thought processes of the teacher).

So one of the questions essentially asked how we felt about the ability to prevent workplace accidents. One of the answers was the syllogistic “All accidents are preventable” and obviously it was the one that displayed the strongest “safety-mindedness”. However, little did they know that someone was responding to it with a philosophical bent (along with some formal training to boot) who knew the answer was clearly erroneous (maybe you disagree?). Why?

  1. Accidents are a holistic phenomena not reducable to a finite, always present set of causes and effects. Whether one believes that there are causes and effects but we mentally can’t reduce it, or whether you believe it is truly irreducable in any possible world is not relevant to this OP but certainly can be discussed further if anyone is interested.

  2. As not reducable to causes and effects, no knowledge can be gained as to completely prevent the accident from occurring again.

  3. Even if factors can be gleaned that contribute to the accident and that are deemed unsafe (which I think they can), by all means actions should be taken to prevent that factor from occurring again through policy and training, but it in no way follows the accident ITSELF can be prevented. So in this case you burned down the building because you threw away a lit cigarette in a gasoline can. You can address the factor of the cigraette in the gasoline can but you can’t absolutely prevent a building from burning in your company in the future.

  4. A truly consistent approach to making policy on the view that all accidents are preventable is to spend ridiculous amounts of money and spend incredible effort identifying every potential way in which an accident can occur. This would mean that every company should hire an astonomer to scan the skies for meteors that could potentially fall on an employee’s head while working. This in itself brings the statement to a resounding reductio ad absurdum crash.

When people say that studying philosophy is a waste of time, can you cite this example as one to disprove them? Or does someone spending time worrying about a throw-away situation like this actually prove the point? I probably single-handedly lowered the “safety mindedness” rating of my department that will now cause us to have to attend extra meetings because I couldn’t just play along.

Well first off for philosophy’s sake I’ll take a swing: Philosophy can be a waste in that it doesn’t get much done but philosophy is a turtle race. When it get’s there it doesn’t need to go anywhere else because everything is done.

Haha, nice OP :slight_smile: Coming from another angle, however, I’d argue that all accidents are ultimately (if not currently) preventable. It’s down to definitions, of course: does it mean all accidents ever anywhere, or every instance of an accident? Theoretically or practically prevented?

Accident isn’t an ontological classification in itself, it’s a manner of describing events, a category. “Accident” describes events where there was no deliberate intent, or even events that were counter to intent (dropping a bomb on a military installation is not an accident unless a different target was intended; dropping a bomb on a hospital when aiming for the arms factory next door is accidental). However, there’s no intent behind a natural event - an earthquake isn’t an accident, although one may have a traffic accident as a result of an earthquake toppling a streetlight across the road.

So they are events where human agency has negative effects without any (or in spite of) human intent. Unlike ‘free will’, it’s not always about the moral apportioning of blame - a drunk driver can cause an accident, but so can a burst tyre. “Calm down, it was an accident” signifies only that there was no bad intent behind an event.

Where there is human behaviour involved, it can be modified. The number and mortality of road accidents can be reduced by increasing safety requirements on cars and decreasing speed limits, implementing a minimum distance between vehicles, regularly checking the alertness of drivers, implementing a social culture of mindfulness and attention, backing it up with a severe prison sentence for negligence and so forth.

At all costs, accidents may be preventable. Society may grind to a halt, people may die instead because of decisions made with conscious intent - is that what they want?

I think you need to have words with the inhuman criminals of health and safety, wanting to enslave humanity in an iron grip of control. These monsters must be stopped!

I think that the first problem is calling EVERYTHING that fails to work as designed an accident, but that is probably a different thread. In the dim dark past, I worked in management and was given the rare honor :unamused: of heading up a safety team in a manufacturing facility that used equipment capable of killing people in an “accident”. After all the analysis of what could be done with making machines and people safe, we hit the real question: How much safety? What we finally came up with took the form of two answers.

  1. Did the company exercise due diligence? 2. Were workers given proper training? I guess we never got philosophical about the issue. It was assumed up front that not all accidents are preventable. It comes down to what can be controlled. MTBF: Mean time between failures. Equipment no matter how well maintained can break. If you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time you could end up with an owie. People factors: We can train people to be safety conscious, but we can’t control the person who comes to work with a bad hangover or who had a fight with the spouse and may be not paying sufficient attention to their tasks. The word oops was invented for a reason. There is no such thing as absolute safety. The idea is to keep “accidents” at the band aid level. The idea that all accidents are completely preventable has to come out of the new hire in HR that is heavy on theory and little or no practical experience.

Some of these things can, in real life, contradict each other. For instance, the “alertness of drivers” and “implementing…mindfulness and attention” can be at odds with “increasing safety requirements on cars”. Some “safety” features are designed to decrease the need for alertness, mindfulness and attention.

I think this situation is similar to one that Tentative was pointing out in the Pricing People thread. He says there, “Slowly, over time, we’ve gradually replaced community involvement with a class of professionals who do that for us.”

Rasava, I agree with O_H - nice OP. I relate personally (all too well), as well as philosophically.

I work in car safety, I can’t think of any examples. You do get risk compensation, whereby people drive more dangerously because they feel more protected. As the joke goes, replace the airbags with fixed bayonets and see how much safer people start driving. Ah, engineers, dear me.

A big push now is exactly the development of aids to alertness and attention - lane-departure warnings, blind-spot scanners, facial tracking cameras that sense when the driver is getting drowsy and alert him/her. Some people will of course use them as crutches, or learn to ignore them, you can only do so much.

The worst culprits are not safety features but convenience features - cruise control and onboard navigation. They certainly decrease the need for attention, to the extent that people fall asleep at the wheel or ignore traffic markings.

For instance, electronic warnings that there is a car in your blind spot that you are about to hit. If you are a driver who has a car with this feature, you will likely become dependent on it, making you a far more dangerous driver when you drive any other car.

Possibly, I’m not sure. I have a car with a rear parking camera, the other car I drive most often has a parking proximity buzzer… when I drive cars without, I’m actually more careful when parking. A bit like Heidegger’s hammer, to tie it in with another thread.

Ah, well you’re speaking from experience whereas I’m conjecturing. So I’ll give you that one. :slight_smile:

Still, though, I think depending on technologies to accomplish such simple tasks is a dubious road to take. For instance, do you assume your parking proximity buzzer will always work? Do you check with your own eyes, in order to create redundancy? Or are there other controls? Maybe there is a light that’s on when the buzzer mechanism is in working order. If the light is off, alarms in your mind go off and you know the buzzer might not work.

What if the light malfunctions? :stuck_out_tongue: Most safety systems (crumple zones, belt pretensioners and load limiters, stability control) are completely unperceived, and many people are completely unaware of them/don’t know whether their car has them. The electronics behind them are double-redundant. But it’s a numbers game, a one-in-ten million/year chance of an airbag going off on the motorway is about two every month in the US (assuming an average of one bag/vehicle). It’s a miniscule chance, and airbags save thousands of lives, but if it’s your airbag that’s a 100% occurrence!

Dependence on technology is always dependence. I’m dependent on modern technology and infrastructure for the food on my family’s table. Don’t think about it, everything’s alright, the world keeps turning, I get sausages tonight, no need to panic. :stuck_out_tongue: I agree fundamentally with you; an inefficient but robust system is better than a fully-optimised brittle one, and making things safer just so you can use them more dangerously (and become more dependent on the manufacturers in the meantime) is the wrong way to go about things. Don’t get me started on dipstick-free Mercedes…

Yes, that is well said. Specifically, and perhaps you disagree with me on this, electronics are, in my experience, always “brittle”. I am forever skeptical of the longevity of electronics. I always look for ways to avoid electronics. For instance, kitchen ranges. When the electronics go kaput, the range is no longer functional and needs to be replaced - even if all other aspect of the product are in working order. In the context of safety, I think it is worth being skeptical of electronic systems even in the short-term life of a product. I don’t think electronics have proven especially dependable - they are simply too complex.

I absolutely agree that all accidents are not preventable.

But i would go further and say, as a question of values, not all measures should be taken to prevent the accidents that are preventable. There’s allways a cost to implementing prevention-measures, be it a real cost, or just the fact that a lot of these measure taken togheter can make life extremely tedious.

In my experience the costs are often underrated, because it’s are usually a recurring cost, one that one fails to asses accurately at the moment of the decision. And the value of prevention of accidents is also overrated, people are risk-averse to a fault these days.

Safety seems to be the new magic word, making the whole issue of prevention of accidents a political one that goes beyond a mere cost-benefit analysis. Big isolated events, like accidents, get a lot of attention, and usually someone has to take the blame for it. A freak accident can cost the head of a manager, not matter how good he did his job, because in retrospect there’s usually something that could’ve been done to prevent it… in retrospect.

Because they personally matter the most to those taking the decisions, these get a lot of attention, while small recurring mistakes usually get little to none. But it’s often that latter that make an organisation bleed to dead.

… he said, over the internet :stuck_out_tongue:

I can’t disagree, my bathroom ventilator just broke down and I repaired it by ripping out the electronics board and just connecting the motor straight in to the power. I distrust electronics principally because I’m confident on mechanics and so-so on electrics, but… electronics is a step more abstract and unknown for me. If I had paid more attention at school I might be more eager to resolder a fried circuit board.

But extrapolating to the general rule, the more efficient things become, the more complex, the more fault-sensitive and the more dependent you become on others’ expertise. It’s the price you pay for having a system designed by experts.

haha, I don’t always succeed! I should at least have added “where the value they add is frivolous” at the end of that post. There is no good reason I can see to add electronics to a kitchen range, for instance. I believe they are added to create and/or satisfy the frivolous desires of the consumer, plus it’s quite the bonus for the manufacturer to guarantee such quick obsolescence.

Also, the internet is “brittle”. If your car’s safety features depended on a constant and secure internet connection, for instance, you’d have some big, big problems.

You never “get there” in philosophy though.

I couldn’t agree more.

The internet itself is very robust - you have massive duplication of resources, and if one link in the chain goes out it reroutes around the problem. The only brittleness is in the point of access, really. It’s like the road network - once you’re on it, you can go anywhere in the country, but if someone’s parked in front of your driveway you’re screwed. To break the internet properly you’d need a huge event, probably a series of them.

Yes, that’s what I mean. I’m talking about how things get used - what they’re good for. I’m not referring to the internet “in itself”, but how it works out for certain uses.

An earthquake isn’t an accident, but the injury sustained by an individual as a result of an earthquake is indeed an accident. The cause of the accident? The earthquake. Can an earthquake be prevented? No, not yet anyway. So can the accident caused by the earthquake or the meteor be prevented? No. All accidents therefore are not preventable.

The word “accident” as used here is not of course the Aristotlean “accident”, but there are sufficient similarities that warrant exposition. An Aristotlean accident is a property of a thing which is not part of the thing’s essence, essential nature or definition. An “accident” in the sense used here also identifies a non-essential property. The essence here is human volition - the essence of the person’s volition was geared to an activity other than burning the building down. This is certainly similar to what you say above. But an accident is an accident from the perspective of the person who suffers it, NOT from the event that contributes to it. Your argument above shifts from discussing the person’s intent to the event’s intent, a shift that is not justified. What makes it an accident is that the person did not intend to fall into a crack in the street caused by the earthquake, not in the lack of intentionality in the earthquake itself.

Absolutely, but from your argument it does not follow that car accidents can be eliminated entirely.

“Accidents may be preventable” is not the same proposition that “Every accident is preventable” or “all accidents are preventable”.

Yeah, as Charlton Heston said before a buried Statue of Liberty, “Damn them all to hell!”

So I believe that despite the arguments made in your post, we are left with the truth of my proposition that all accidents are not preventable for the reasons I set forth.

I disagree. If a volcano on an uninhabited island erupts and destroys a tree, that tree is not destroyed by accident. If a meteor smashes into the Earth and kills everyone, they didn’t die by accident. It’s the person’s interaction with events, and the fact that they could in theory have been doing something else, or the same thing differently, that marks how we use it.

Per above, what makes it an accident is that they couldn’t stop in time, or unknowingly chose to go down that street at all, or never took that job in the Navy.

Ban cars. Problem solved.

Any given accident is preventable. If it were inevitable (or essential, or necessary), it wouldn’t be an accident. If I believe myself to be heatproof and jump into a furnace intending to demonstrate this and not die, that’s not an accident.

That’s true, but that’s because the potential threats of doing such an act are obvious.