It is almost a year since I started as General manager of the Safety Charter and my journey into the world of health and safety. It has been a bit of a crash course getting up to speed, and I am getting to the point of not embarrassing myself too much anymore in front of the professionals in the field. However, the one thing I struggle a bit with is the idea of risk, hazards, and controls.
On their own these seem easy to handle. Risk is the probability something bad will happen. A hazard is something that can cause a bad thing to happen, and a control is something that you apply around a hazard to reduce the possibility of the bad thing happening. But already we can see how the three are intertwined. Then you must consider that all hazards do not necessarily pose a risk, like an asteroid in space, and that not all risks necessarily involve hazards, like human behaviour.
Add to the mix the legislative requirement that PCBU’s must take all practicable steps to eliminate workplace risks, and if they cannot be eliminated the PCBU must implement control measures to minimise the risks. The focus here is all about the risks, and the ability of controls to reduce the risk to an acceptable level, whatever that may be.
The thing that is apparent to me is that both risk and hazards are not static. They can constantly change throughout the workday depending on a variety of factors, be it environmental, physical, mechanical etc. However, the biggest risk variability is surely the human one. We all know that humans take a lot of factors into consideration when making decisions, and safety is only one of those.
If we accept that we cannot always manage the hazards and the risks, then we must focus our attention on the controls. A fence at the top of the cliff is worth more than the ambulance at the bottom. if we wait for a failure to tell us what needs to be better controlled, we are missing a vital point. We need to build capacity before an event occurs. Health and Safety needs to be more about designing systems and structures that can allow for the risk and hazard variability. This means designing systems that can fail in a safe manner. In other words, more proactive than reactive.
The modern car is a classic example. Telling people not to crash has not been successful in reducing accidents and harm. What has been successful is the vast array of active and passive safety features now available. I read an article about car manufacturer Volvo pledging to build a zero-fatality car by 2020. In the UK, with 70,000 units sold, one Volvo model has not had a fatality since 2014. Look it up, it makes interesting reading.
This leads us into the area of Health and safety by design. The upcoming workshop is a great place to start if you are interested in learning more about this.
Paul Duggan, General Manager