Contamination From Industrial Accidents

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In addition to the immediate costs they incur in terms of injury, death, and property loss, industrial accidents sometimes have environmental consequences that last a long time. Major accidents like the nuclear-reactor incidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, the chemical plant emissions in Bophal, and the oil spill from the Exxon Valdez make news headlines and get a great deal of attention as they should. What may have greater long-term implications for the environment, however, are the cumulative effects of the countless industrial accidents resulting in spills and emissions that individually do not get media attention or that may not even be detected or reported.

The implications of industrial accidents for safety and health have received a great deal of attention. Accidents that are responsible for large numbers of fatalities or serious physical injuries, or that result in readily identified illnesses over a period of time, are likely to get much notice. There is growing evidence that the occurrence of industrial accidents of certain types, and perhaps even the threat of their occurrence, can have detrimental psychological and psycho-

physiological effects on people who live close to where they have occurred or might occur (Baum & Fleming, 1993; Hatch, Wallenstein, Beyea, Nieves, & Susser, 1991; Wandersman & Hallman, 1993), and that such effects can last for several years if not become chronic (Baum, 1990; Baum, Gatchel, & Schaeffer, 1983; Gatchel, Schaeffer, & Baum, 1985). Industrial (humanmade) disasters are believed by some investigators to be more stress-inducing than comparable natural disasters (Baum, 1987; Baum, Fleming, & Davidson, 1983) perhaps because they are seen to be avoidable in principle. Therefore, their occurrence represents a loss of control in situations where control was possible.

Human error is known to be a primary cause of industrial accidents. Essentially, every major incident that has been investigated has revealed one or more critical points at which preventable mistakes occurred. In addition to problems stemming from poor training, inadequate documentation, inappropriate operating procedures, and ineffective management policies, errors are often traceable to poorly designed person-machine interfaces (Reason, 1990; Senders & Moray, 1991).

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