Home » Blog » Accidents Will Happen — And That Is No Accident

Capitalism, Work

Accidents Will Happen — And That Is No Accident

Views: 1,245 Accidents will happen. Under any social system. People are imperfect. They make mistakes and those mistakes sometimes cause accidents. Some accidents may be a matter …

by Stephen Shenfield



2 min read

Photo by Zoi Palla on Unsplash

Accidents will happen. Under any social system. People are imperfect. They make mistakes and those mistakes sometimes cause accidents.

Some accidents may be a matter of pure chance. But there are forces at work that systematically cause accidents. Such accidents are products of the social system. It is predictable that they will occur. They are not really accidental. 

Let’s examine three examples.

Accident #1

On March 24 of this year 14-year-old Tyre Sampson slipped out of his seat on a 430-foot drop-tower ride at Icon amusement park in Orlando, Florida and fell to his death. Each seat was equipped only with an over-the-shoulder harness. Adding a seatbelt, which might have saved the lad, would have cost all of $22 ($660 for all 30 seats). Or he could have been told that his height and bulk made the ride too risky for him. But the operator wanted all the business he could get. 

Both cost-cutting at the expense of safety and reluctance to turn away customers arise out of the drive for profit.   

Accident #2

Let us turn to another fatal accident that took place in Florida in March 2022. A worker on a building site was inside a portable toilet cabin when it was run over by a heavy bulldozer. He was crushed to death. The driver of a big earth-moving machine often lacks a clear view of its surroundings. That is why the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA) requires a ‘safety spotter’ to be on duty whenever such equipment is in use. The spotter’s sole job is to look out for potential accidents and ‘give timely warning’ to prevent them. But there was no spotter in place to prevent this accident.

Why not? It is unclear why no spotter was present. However, finding one would have caused delay. And construction workers and their supervisors are under pressure to complete tasks quickly. Construction contracts contain built-in incentives to reduce costs and expedite completion. The Project Completion Bonus, paid only if deadlines are met, may amount to 5—20% of the total compensation for a project. So again safety is jeopardized in order to make more money. 

Would it not be safer to place toilets on the edge of a building site rather than in the middle? But then it would take workers longer to answer the call of nature and get back to work. Risking lives saves time – and therefore money.

This also explains why workers working up on roofs do not erect scaffolding but rely on ladders, not always of the highest quality. Accidents occur even when scaffolding is in use, but not so many.

Accident #3

The OSHA website lists a number of cases of workers being buried alive when a trench in which they were working collapsed. Thus on 9/7/21 a man was down in a trench busy replacing a sewer line when the soil on one side of the trench suddenly fell over him. 

With sufficient care and expertise these horrific incidents can be prevented. Trench walls should not be too steep. It often helps to insert lateral supports. Ideally the stability of soil slopes should be analyzed, though this requires data collection and training in soil science and engineering. But such precautions entail delay and expense, so they are often neglected.

Even when an OSHA inspector investigates a fatal accident and finds that there has been gross negligence, all that happens is that the employer pays a penalty that is rarely much higher than $10,000 and that can easily be written off as a business expense. No employer ever sees the inside of a prison for such a trivial offense as endangering the health and lives of workers. 

Other Articles on the Same Theme

Jordan Levi, Fire on 9th Street. 12/29/19


Power Saws: Safety and Profit. 11/5/19 


Plane Crashes: Profit Before People.  8/9/19

John Ayers of the Socialist Party of Canada seeks the cause of crashes involving the new Boeing 737 Max 


Tags: accidents, occupational safety, OSHA

Photo of author
I grew up in Muswell Hill, north London, and joined the Socialist Party of Great Britain at age 16. After studying mathematics and statistics, I worked as a government statistician in the 1970s before entering Soviet Studies at the University of Birmingham. I was active in the nuclear disarmament movement. In 1989 I moved with my family to Providence, Rhode Island, USA to take up a position on the faculty of Brown University, where I taught International Relations. After leaving Brown in 2000, I worked mainly as a translator from Russian. I rejoined the World Socialist Movement about 2005 and am currently general secretary of the World Socialist Party of the United States. I have written two books: The Nuclear Predicament: Explorations in Soviet Ideology (Routledge, 1987) and Russian Fascism: Traditions, Tendencies, Movements (M.E. Sharpe, 2001) and more articles, papers, and book chapters that I care to recall.

Related Articles

Notify of
This site uses User Verification plugin to reduce spam. See how your comment data is processed.
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments