By Randy Logsdon
A lot has been said about hazard awareness, hazard recognition and hazard identification in the workplace. All of these are fairly synonymous terms for the act of understanding those elements in the work environment that can be harmful— a key element to protecting your safety. Applying those hazard recognition skills to each situation you encounter daily provides the start you need to perform your job safely this day and every day. Workplace and equipment-inspection checklists serve as an important aid to help focus attention on those aspects of the workplace that could prove to be hazardous.
As I said, hazard recognition is a good start. But the next step is just as important—risk assessment.
Risk assessment can appear daunting but in many cases is so simple that many of us use it and don’t realize it.Driving a car or truck is common to most of us, so let’s consider an example involving driving.
Following necessary preparation (vehicle inspection), you get into your car and start the engine. After pulling out of the driveway, and through the neighborhoods, you turn onto the highway. The speed limit is 65 mph and so you gently accelerate to the speed limit. You see no obstacles to the front, side or rear, so you continue to cruise at 65. A few miles down the road, you enter a rain shower. You recognize that the rain presents a hazard, but the road is four lanes, its straight and there is little traffic. You decide to maintain 65 mph.
You’ve just completed and acted on a risk assessment. You recognized a hazard, and considered the likelihood of losing control and crashing. You’ve determined that a crash at this speed could have serious consequences but, because the road conditions are so good, the rain will have little impact on the likelihood of that happening. You’ve analyzed the two components of risk assessment—likelihood and severity of consequence. The accompanying table provides a graphic representation of the process you just used to evaluate risk. Value 1 is the lowest risk. Value 9 is the highest risk. The risk for driving into the rain shower may rate a value of 3 (high consequence, low likelihood).
Consider the same scenario but this time instead of entering a rain shower, you enter a fog bank. The road is straight (you think) and it’s in good condition, but this time your visibility is severely restricted. You decide to slow down.
In this second scenario, your instant risk assessment reveals that the likelihood of a crash is much greater and the severity of a crash remains high. You decide to reduce both the likelihood and the severity by cutting your speed significantly. In so doing, you can see objects in time to react and should there be a crash, it will be less severe because of your reduced speed. So, where would you place the risk of driving 65 mph in dense fog on the chart? How about after your prudent action in reducing speed to say 35 mph for conditions?
So, you don’t need the table to perform a risk assessment. What you do need is a clear understanding of the hazards in and around your workplace. (Remember those checklists?) You need to know how those hazards can impact safety, and the likelihood that something bad could happen.
Now, you might ask:
“Why do we have to comply with so many rules that seem to apply to low-risk situations, especially when the likelihood is so slight?”The answer is really fairly simple. It can happen—if not now, sometime—if not to you, to someone. Each time you step into a dark room and throw the light switch, you expect the light to come on. You know (from experience) that sometime for someone, the light will burn out. When the consequences are high, you and I have to be prepared for that light to fail, because safety is not just about you or me. It’s about us.