IRSST - Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail

Unforeseen Events at Work: OHS Risks or Learning Opportunities?

  •   June 27, 2017

Montréal, June 27, 2017 - In a research activity aimed at broadening knowledge, the researchers focused on unforeseen events experienced during the apprenticeships of nine students aged 15 to 17 enrolled in training for a semiskilled trade. These events, which disrupted the trainees’ normal workflow, sometimes resulted in an incident, or risked causing an accident. The researchers wanted to document the strategies used by these nine apprentices when unforeseen events arise. Using video sequences filmed at the beginning and end of the students’ apprenticeships, the researchers were able to determine and classify unforeseen events, their causes, and the strategies used to overcome them. In total, 554 unforeseen events were observed, of which 19% involved occupational health and safety (SST) risks. More than half of the events with the potential to cause an accident were associated with the specific work contexts of three of the nine trainees: a woodworker, a stock handler in a household appliance/electronics store, and a butcher’s helper. All had tasks involving handling heavy loads. To deal with unforeseen events, the apprentices mainly used individual strategies, in that they tried to solve problems themselves, without asking for help from more experienced coworkers.

Marie LabergeAs an unforeseen event is both a source of occupational health and safety (SST) risk, and a learning opportunity, in light of their findings, the authors, including lead researcher Marie Laberge, PhD, from the Université de Montréal, formulated some suggestions for organizations:

  • To analyze unforeseen events that can lead to the risk of accident, in order to suggest appropriate prevention mechanisms;
  • To provide novices with learning opportunities by incrementally increasing the level of complexity and the sources of constraints;
  • To enrich workplace training by replicating unforeseen situations under supervision, to give trainees the opportunity to implement strategies adapted to the situations;
  • To pay special attention to handling tasks and adopt training strategies;
  • To plan mechanisms to encourage the transfer of knowledge useful for learning trade skills and efficient work methods, etc.

The researchers also intend to integrate their research results into a project to establish OHS learning tools for students enrolled in training for a semiskilled trade.

The results of this study, funded by the Institut de recherché Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail (IRSST), can be consulted at no charge at

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Jacques Millette
Manager, Public Affairs and External Communication Strategy