This is a story of a middle-aged man Peter who suddenly became a pensioner after a serious work accident. Now can Peter and his 78-year-old father ride a bus completely free and go fishing together. Some people might wonder why Peter is not happy with his life.

A round of shots on Friday

Peter was working in a small construction company where the employees were like a big family. During the day, the men were working and sharing a smoke together, in the evenings they broke open a bottle of beer. On Fridays, there was also a small round of shots. The men had lots of fun and did pranks on each other. For example, maintenance worker John’s shoes were nailed to the ground. John fell over and others had a good laugh.

Half the salary in cash

Men’s boss was Brett who was also the owner of the company. Brett was good at finding new construction projects, and on paydays, men got half of the salary on their bank account and half of it in cash. Everybody was fine with it because that meant more money.

Peter had a hungover at work

One rainy morning in November, the men went to the construction site to build a foundation and erect scaffolding. Peter had a headache due to the few beers he had drunk the previous evening. This was no big deal, as working helps to sweat out the hangover. Peter started cutting planks with a circular saw.

The saw chopped off four fingers on the left hand

Working went fine, with the planks being cut and nailed together. The men were chatting and discussing if it is better to have fish or meat with vodka on Friday. One of the men promised to bring some homemade dried fish. Suddenly, Peter blacked out. The circular saw had slipped and cut off four fingers on his left hand.

Lifeless fingers were lying on the ground

Peter calmly put the saw down and looked at his left hand. Fingers of the left hand were gone, and bright red blood was coming from the stumps. There was ringing in the ears, so Peter did not hear what was happening around him. He looked down and saw pale, lifeless fingers covered in sawdust next to a wooden plank. Someone was screaming… ambulance came… Peter was lying on the stretcher and closed his eyes.

The hand was hurting and the mother was crying

At the next moment, Peter was already in the hospital. The left hand had been bandaged and it was badly hurting. Peter’s mother was crying next to his bed. “Where is Susan,“ Peter asked from his mother. “She is in the countryside with the children,“ answered Peter’s mother. Peter looked at his left bandaged hand again. “Where did they put my fingers,“ asked Peter. Mother began crying even louder.

Brett’s twin brother Rhett arrived at the construction site

At the same time, the work inspectorate had arrived to check up on Brett’s company. It turned out that Brett had not done the company’s risk analysis, there was no documentation on training and no employee had been sent to a medical check-up. During the inspection, a bulky man with black sunglasses arrived at the construction site. It appeared to be Brett’s twin brother Rhett who wanted to check if his employees were okay. Since his employees had not been involved in the work accident, he drove off quickly. The inspector did not even get a chance to ask if Rhett had properly instructed his employees on the risk factors of the work environment.

This is the end of this fictional story of a work accident in a small enterprise. Next, we will take a look how is the situation in the Estonian work environment.

Work accident tells you when it’s coming

According to the review by the Labor Inspectorate, Estonian enterprises have serious problems with risk analyses and occupational safety. Before one serious work accident occurs, there can be as many as five minor work accidents in the enterprise, or similar dangerous situations occur where, fortunately, no one is injured. If these situations are not noticed, a work accident seems like a surprise, when it really is not. [1]

In Estonia, relatively more serious and fatal work accidents happen in small enterprises rather than in larger ones. The reasons include mostly insufficient instruction of employees and incorrect risk assessment. A large proportion of accidents occur in the first year of employment (35%), which clearly indicates that there is a lack of guidance. In addition, the small enterprises cannot boast with having correct documentation required by the Occupational Health and Safety Act. There are no risk analyses and data on employee supervision. These are not just bureaucratic requirements, but they actually help the employer to make the work environment safer. For example, when preparing a risk analysis, the enterprise must consider risk factors in the work environment, and also possibilities to reduce them. Documenting supervision processes helps to systematically keep the focus on risk factors, and to avoid accidental information voids.

A fine of up to 300 fine units or 1200€ can be imposed for violating occupational health and safety requirements. Misdemeanor procedure and punishments are not the aims of the Labor Inspectorate. At the same time, fines of maximally 1200€ are paid by entrepreneurs such as Brett and Rhett from the back pocket in cash. Apparently, fining Brett does not help to improve Peter’s health. It is also unlikely that Brett or Rhett will make changes in their business culture, or carry out risk analyses. Thus, there is no hope that fines help to reduce the number of work accidents or improve employees’ health. Supervising employees, preparing a risk analysis and discussing it with the employees, and implementing correct work techniques help to reduce the number of work accidents.

[1] Overview of work environment https://www.ti.ee/sites/default/files/dokumendid/Meedia_ja_statistika/Toeoekeskkonna_uelevaated/2020/tookeskkond_2021_en_40lk_a4_web.pdf , p 17.