YouTube has a great selection of useful, informative, and educational content. But, when you search for safety-related videos, you'll also find a near-infinite number of clips of people falling down, safety fail compilations (sometimes of people falling down), buildings collapsing, and equipment exploding.

The bulk of the non-educational workplace safety videos I reviewed for this article basically fit into three categories:

  1. Videos that show the grave and immediate consequences of safety incidents. Needless to say, these are hard to watch.
  2. Videos in which the subject revels in their wanton disregard for safety. You know you've found one of these if the word "redneck" is somewhere in the title.
  3. Videos of people overlooking safety procedures out of ignorance, hurry, or plucky "git r' done" ingenuity.

Each of these types will give safety professionals plenty of reasons to lose sleep, but they can also be informative. We can learn a lot from the errors captured on camera without having to see someone getting maimed. The more lighthearted videos can also be a good training tool and way to make learning about safety a bit more fun and memorable, even if the behavior depicted in the videos is no laughing matter.

Here are three videos I've selected, along with some of the things we can learn from watching them.

1. Warehouse of Cards

When considering the losses resulting from an incident, we have to look at the full scope. We have to think in terms of PEME: people, environment, materials, and equipment. This clip has a little from each column. Naturally, people are always the paramount concern. When watching the calamity unfold in the clip, it doesn't matter how many racks fall down, our first concern is for the driver and the others nearby.

The hapless driver gets buried almost instantly while onlookers run to safety from the crumpling, folding steel racks. In no time, the whole warehouse is reduced to a pile of debris, with the driver and forklift somewhere underneath. Forklifts are designed to withstand both impacts and weight from overhead, so hopefully the forklift operator made it out alright. The inventory, it's safe to say, did not.

(Learn about 4 Common Forklift Accidents – And How to Prevent Them.)

So, what happened here?

Well, at first glance, we notice that the forklift driver doesn't seem to be looking in the direction of travel and then comes in contact with the rack. While this should be avoided, strikes can happen in warehouses (and, by the way, they should always be reported to a safety rep) and the racking should be designed with this in mind.

The strike in the clip looks minor, and the results should have been benign (a scuff on the racking), but instead, we see a catastrophic failure. While it's impossible to tell for sure by just watching the video, it seems quite likely that the racks were loaded way beyond their weight capacity, especially when you look at the way they collapse. Proper, regular inspections by a competent person could have caught this problem before it resulted in this accident.

Those racks were either overloaded, poorly designed, or improperly secured – or maybe a combination of the three. This was like the proverbial tinderbox waiting for a spark.

(For related reading, see Top 5 Tips for Warehouse and Racking Safety.)

2. Another Brick in the Wall

I don't know where this video is set, but suffice it to say it's somewhere with few safety regulations or poor regulatory enforcement. It is sad that conditions like these are commonplace in some parts of the world and workers have to put themselves at risk of grievous harm to make a living.

There are many workers in developed nations who have the attitude that safety is an impediment to efficient work. Some of those folks look back on the pre-regulatory days with misplaced nostalgia. Sure, maybe "men were men" back then, but workplace fatalities was also a daily reality throughout the country. Videos like this one are grave reminders that, in many places, this is still true.

There is plenty going on here. I'll skip over the fact that the subject of the video doesn't appear to have any hearing protection because that should be the least of his concerns. In fact, he has no safety gear of any kind. I won't itemize all the PPE he should be wearing, other than the most glaring omission: fall protection. You don't have to be a safety professional to realize this guy should, at the very least, have been given a harness.

(Learn more in Fall Protection and Leading Edges: What You Need to Know.)

Safety professionals conduct hazard assessments prior to the start of work to determine the types of control measures they need to apply. Our demolitionist here is primarily at risk of a fall from several storeys and onto construction debris below. It would take a miracle to survive that kind of drop. Compounding the danger is the fact that he's not only working at height – he's smashing the very surface he's standing on.

Sure, scaffolding and fall protection take time and cost money, but getting the job done is never worth the kinds of risks you see in this video. I don't think even the most vocal members of the anti-regulation camp would volunteer for this task.

3. Jackhammer Time

Unlike the previous videos, this one is implied to be humorous. The humor, in this case, derives from the (presumably very green) worker's incredibly incorrect use of his tool. In fact, his attempt to use the jackhammer is so baffling that you might wonder whether he has ever used any power tools whatsoever.

Maybe the most surprising thing about this video is that his method actually sort of works, albeit slowly. I'm inclined to forgive his unfamiliarity, since a jackhammer isn't something found in most people's toolboxes. However, he should have realized the power cord was there for a reason instead of tucking it into his back pocket.

There is plenty more to unpack in this video, and it does deserve some attention. Here's why: similar scenes happen on work sites every day, and they have serious safety implications. A task is given to someone who is in no way competent or prepared to do it; he gets to it with no training, no supervision, and no PPE (he's pulverizing concrete – steel toes, glasses, earplugs, and a dust mask would be a minimum); and he's just left to wing it. New workers are sometimes disinclined to ask for help because they don't want to expose their ignorance. Thankfully, one of the most frequent consequences of this is embarrassment. But in many cases, it can lead to serious injury like lost digits or limbs.

(Learn about Enhancing Safety Culture through Mentorship Programs.)

Everyone else in the video is getting a chuckle from this mishandling of the jackhammer. By the end of the video, the subject has learned a basic lesson in how to use his tool, but it seems that nobody has learned the lesson that the cherished tradition of laughing at the new guy should never take precedent over safety.