Knife Cuts in Restaurants

By Angela Griffith

Knife cuts in restaurants pose a big risk, not only to the restaurant employees themselves, but also to customers due to the potential risk of contamination by blood or bandages as a result of an employee who receives a laceration due to a knife cut.  There are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of a knife cut.  While some of these steps can be taken by restaurant employees themselves, many will involve the restaurant management as well.  Although these recommendations are based on knife cuts that occur within the restaurant and food preparation industry, they are also relevant for use at home to protect against lacerations from knives.

You can view some different causes that can result in lacerations from knives in a Cause Map, or visual root cause analysis, by clicking “Download PDF” above.   With any root cause analysis, the goal is to determine as many solutions as possible to reduce the risk of the issue – in this case, knife cuts – from happening in the future.  When we put together a proactive investigation – not based on one specific incident, but rather combining any possible causes we can brainstorm to best determine solutions – we can use some examples of actual lacerations that have occurred, and also our personal experiences to brainstorm causes.  As with any investigation, the wider net we cast, the more ideas we brainstorm and the more possible solutions we can discover.

The setup of the food prep area is key to reducing cuts.  Inadequate lighting and distraction can lead to increased injury, as can the storage location of the knives.  (You’re much more likely to cut yourself grabbing a knife out of a drawer than off a magnetic strip or out of a block.)  The condition of the knives themselves is also key.  Properly maintained knives – that is, knives that are sharpened and the handles are properly attached – are less likely to cause cuts because dull knives, or those with loose handles, make it difficult to cut properly, increasing the risk of cuts.  Knives should be regularly sharpened and if a knife is damaged, it should be disposed of.  In addition, having the proper compliment of knives is important.  Proper cutting technique can reduce knife cuts, but a key component  to proper cutting technique is having the correct knife.

An additional component of proper cutting technique is training.  Training should include techniques for cutting as well as which knife to use for which type of cutting and what kind of food product.  Some of the key aspects to knife cutting technique that can decrease the incidence of knife cuts include: cut away from you, using a cutting board with a mat to keep it from slipping.  Hold objects with your fingers pointing straight down, using your knuckles as a guide for the knife.  It’s very difficult to cut yourself while holding a knife this way.

Not all knife cuts occur while cutting food.  One frequent source of knife cuts is reaching into a sink full of soap water and grabbing a knife blade.  When hand washing knives, put it one knife at a time and don’t let go of it.  Always set knives well onto the counter with the blade facing away from you.  And if a knife falls off a prep surface, step back and let it fall.  If you are particularly concerned about knife cuts, you may want to consider the use of Kevlar gloves.  Restaurants that use Kevlar gloves have seen a remarkable decrease in injuries due to knife cuts.

To view the Cause Map, please click “Download PDF” above

Slips, Trips and Falls: A Root Cause Analysis Primer

By Angela Griffith

Slips, trips and falls happen every day.  Falls are responsible for tens of thousands of deaths each year.  (Slips and trips are considered a subset of falls, and are included in these numbers.)  Falls on the job account for 12-15% of all worker’s comp costs.  The direct and indirect costs of workers injured and killed on the job are estimated to be billions of dollars each year, both in worker’s comp claims and in lost productivity.  In 1999, as an example, 5,100 workers were killed by falls and over 570,000 injuries were reported.  However, there are many things that can be done to prevent and lessen the impact of falls.  Performing a Cause Map, a visual root cause analysis, will allow us to identify all the potential causes of falls.  A thorough root cause analysis built as a Cause Map can capture all of the causes in a simple, intuitive format that fits on one page.  Once we’ve done that, we can identify all the solutions.

A worker is injured during a fall because the worker strikes the floor, or another object, and the object contacted is hard, and the worker hits in a way that causes injury.  When we say that workers are injured because they hit an object in a way that causes injury, what we are really talking about is factors that worsen a fall, and make injury more likely. The worker could land on a part of his or her body that is more easily injured.  Another way that injuries can be worsened is if a worker falls farther than his or her height (i.e., not a same-level fall).

The worker strikes the floor or other object because he or she falls, and there is no other support for the body, such as a handrail, or a harness.   There are four different ways to fall: slips, trips, the “step and fall” (where a person gets off-balance while stepping), and becoming unbalanced on moving equipment.

A worker slips when there is inadequate traction, either because the force of stepping off is too high, or the coefficient of friction is too low.  The force of stepping off can be higher than average if the worker is walking quickly or running, making a sudden change in direction, or if he or she has an awkward gait, from injury or old age, for example.  The coefficient of friction is a function of the traction provided by the shoes the worker is wearing and the “slipperiness” of the walking surface.  The coefficient of friction is too low if the traction of the worker’s shoes is inadequate and if the floor is slippery, because the surface is wet, icy and/or oily and does not have a non-skid coating.  Of course, for this to be an issue at all, the worker has to step into the slippery area.

A worker can become off-balance by encountering an unexpected height difference (known as the “step and fall”).  This occurs in one of two ways.  Either the front foot lands on a surface lower than expected, or the ankle turns due to one side of the foot ending up higher than the other side, with footwear that inadequately supports the ankle.  These are both due to an unexpected height difference.

When a worker trips, it is because his or her toe is stopped, but his or her upper body is not stopped.  The upper body is moving because the worker is moving and he toe is topped because it encounters an object in the walking path, a rise in the walking path, or a difference in height of subsequent stairs.

Last but not least, falls can be caused by workers who become unbalanced on moving equipment.  For this to occur, the worker must be inadequately secured to the equipment while the equipment changes motion, either by turning, decelerating or stopping, or accelerating or starting to move.

Once we have built our Cause Map and found all the potential causes, we can assign potential solutions to all appropriate causes.  The solutions are in green boxes, near the cause(s) they “solve”.   You can see that some of the solutions are the responsibility of the company, and some are the responsibility of the worker, and some are both.   Although many of the responsibilities lie with the worker, it is in a company’s best interest to provide training on how to prevent, manage and mitigate falls.  Falls may seem like everyday, ordinary minor occurrences, but the consequences can be anything but minor.

Planes Nearly Collide Over DC

By Angela Griffith

Two planes came within seconds of a collision on  July 31, 2012 when both were directed to the same airspace by controllers.  Although no incident occurred, such near misses should be investigated thoroughly to prevent incidents in the future.

We can perform a root cause analysis of this incident in visual Cause Mapping form.  We begin with the impacts to the goals.  In the case of a near-miss like this one, some of the impacts to the goals will be hypothetical, based on the potential of the incident actually occurring.  For example, the safety goal is impacted because of the potential of death or injury to the passengers and crew on the planes.  The property goal is also impacted due to the potential of damage to the planes.  Even though this incident was considered a near-miss, there were some actual impacts to the goals, such as the delay in landing of the inbound plane, which can be considered an impact to the customer service, schedule, and  labor goal.

Once we have determined the impacts to the goals, we can begin the analysis by asking “why” questions.  In this case, the safety and property goals were impacted due to the potential collision of two planes.  These planes could have collided because they were on a collision course.   One plane was taking off directly towards another  plane that was trying to land.  The landing plane was landing in the opposite direction as usual (from the South instead of from the North) in order to avoid high winds from an incoming storm.  The plane taking off was cleared to take off towards the incoming plane (towards the South) by a different controller who was unaware that incoming planes were coming in from a different direction.  Communication of the change in incoming flights was not made to all controllers in the area and, although no details are available, it appears that the procedure used by the controllers when changing the flow towards the airport was inadequate.

There are thousands of recorded errors by air traffic controllers every year, and Reagan National (where this incident occurred) has had some particularly high-profile incidents, such as when a controller fell asleep (see   previous blog), involving air traffic controllers.  On August 10, 2012, two aircraft clipped each other at another Washington, DC area airport, although it is unclear if controllers were involved.  (See the article here.)  A congressional and FAA investigation is underway, and will hopefully address some needed improvements in air safety.

To view the Outline and Cause Map, please click “Download PDF” above.

SL-1 Explosion-The Only Fatal Reactor Accident in the US

By Angela Griffith

The only fatal reactor accident in the United States occurred on January 3, 1961, when an Army prototype known as SL-1 (for stationary, low power reactor, unit 1) exploded, killing the 3 operators who were present.  We’ll use the SL-1 tragedy as an example of how the Cause Mapping process can be applied to a specific incident.  A thorough root cause analysis built as a Cause Map can capture all of the causes in a simple, intuitive format that fits on one page.

The SL-1 tragedy killed the three operators present, which is an impact to the safety goal.  Another goal is that there be no damage to the vessel. In the case of SL-1, the  vessel sustained extensive damage.

The loss of life and vessel damage were both caused by the reactor exploding.  The reactor exploded because it went prompt critical (an uncontrollable, exponentially increasing fission reaction).  The reactor went prompt critical because withdrawal of the central rod can cause prompt criticality and because the rod was rapidly, manually lifted 26.4″ out of the core.

Withdrawal of the central rod can cause prompt criticality due to a lack of shutdown margin in the core, and inadequate safety criteria.

Because most of the evidence was so effectively destroyed, nobody really knows why the control rod was lifted out of the core.  There are two theories (disregarding the bizarre and improbable murder/suicide theory): 1) the control rod got stuck while being lifted to be attached to the drive mechanism, and, as the operator was exerting greater force on it, suddenly came free, resulting in a lift far greater than intended, or that an rod drop testing/exercising was performed improperly.

The control rod may have become stuck and came free while being attached because it was required to be lifted 4″ out of the core and because control rods had been sticking.  The control rods had been sticking for one or more of the following reasons: 1) reduced clearances due to radiation damage (which can cause structural material to swell), 2) the passage was blocked due to loss of poison strips in the channel, caused by poor design and inadequate testing, or 3) lifting equipment not working properly due to inadequate lifting capacity of the lifting equipment.

It’s also possible that an exercising/testing was potentially improperly performed.  This could have occurred because the operators chose to exercise/test the rods, attempting to ensure that they would perform properly, and because they didn’t realize what would happen. This is because of inadequate training and inadequate work instructions.  The testing was also potentially done improperly due to inadequate work instructions.

On a positive note, the SL-1 incident did initiate some positive changes in the nuclear industry.  Most notably, reactor design has improved and incorporated a “one-rod stuck” criteria which specifies that a reactor can NOT go critical by the removal of any one control rod.  Additionally, procedures and training have gotten more intense and more formal, and planning for emergencies has increased.

11 Year Old Flies to Rome from England without Ticket or Passport

By Kim Smiley

On July 25, 2012, an 11 year old boy managed to sneak aboard a flight to Rome from Manchester England without a ticket or a passport.  No one noted the presence of the extra passenger until other passengers informed airline staff that the boy had told them he was running away from home and seemed suspicious.  The timing of this incident was unfortunate since it occurred a few days before the start of the Olympics and raised more questions about British security.

How did a boy manage to depart on an aircraft without any of the proper documentation?  This incident can be analyzed by building a Cause Map, a visual root cause analysis which intuitively shows the relationships between the causes that contributed to the issue.

In this example, the boy was able to sneak onto the flight because the extra passenger wasn’t noted in the head count and he got through five separate security checks.  The boy did not circumvent any of the normal security checks, he just walked through them without showing a shred of paper or anybody questioning him or stopping him.

The boy was able to get into the secure departure area without showing a ticket, get through the passport check without a passport, get through security screening without showing a ticket or boarding pass (he did go through the x-ray), get through the gate passport and boarding pass check without any paperwork and finally board the plane without a boarding pass.  Add in the final failure of the head count to notice an extra body and an English 11 year without any paperwork was on his way to Rome.

Apparently the boy was able to pull off this feat by sticking close to families with children and took advantage of situations where one family member was showing the documentation for a large group.   Video surveillance from the airport shows him acting very confident and his behavior gave no one reason to be suspicious.  The airport was also very busy due to the summer holiday season. Throw in an ineffective head count and the end result was a significant, if not particularly dangerous, security breach days before a huge international event.

Several members of the airline staff were suspended as a result of this incident.  A full investigation is underway to understand the incident and work to ensure something similar never happens again.

To view a high level Cause Map of this incident, click on “Download PDF” above.