Spike in Fatalities Before Athens Games Explored

Falls from heights, electrocutions, and caught-between injuries were the leading causes of occupational deaths in East Attica, Greece, in 1999-2003 -- the five years preceding the 2004 Olympics. Investigators who studied those deaths say a 2002 increase to 19 deaths was linked with construction of large-scale public works projects and an influx of inexperienced workers.

The study, "Factors Attributed to Fatal Occupational Accidents in a Period of 5 Years Preceding the Athens 2004 Olympic Games," is published in the most recent issue of the International Journal of Occupational Safety and Ergonomics. The authors, including lead author Panagiota Katsakiori, work at the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Aeronautics at the University of Patras in Athens.

Similar to regulations here in the United States, Greece's 1996 health and safety legislation requires employers to report any occupational fatality to the appropriate Centre of Prevention of Occupational Risk within 24 hours, which is followed up by one or two labor inspectors visiting the site and writing a formal accident report, according to the authors, who based their study on a questionnaire administered to the inspectors and the inspectors' assessment of causal factors for each of the 63 fatal incidents during the five-year period. (Of those 63, there were 37 fatal falls from height, representing 58.7 percent of the total.) The factors were supervisor or management pressure, victim's inexperience with the work situation, lack of appropriate PPE, ambiguity and task difficulty, and failure to use PPE.

"We observed that the psychological factor [i.e., pressure exerted over the worker to execute the work as fast as possible], which was found to be quite high, in combination with the inexperience of the worker in the specific type of work . . . contributed to the occurrence of accidents," the authors concluded.

After rising from nine deaths in 2001 to 19 deaths in 2002, the number of fatal incidents in East Attica fell to 13 in 2003 "due to the effort put in by labor inspectors to ensure safety in the construction of the Olympic projects, which bore fruit although the time pressure remained," they wrote.

The authors said their findings demonstrate the importance of orientation and job training for employees, the right PPE and effective supervision, and reduced performance pressure on workers. "The worker's inexperience is important in any workplace," they added.

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