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Cracks in Global Safety Management Thinking

The Cracks...

July 1, 2005  By Pulp & Paper Canada

The Cracks

(1) Safety Management Standards:

As summarized recently by the US Industrial Health and Safety News (ISHN) there is disillusionment with the lack of formal adoption of various safety standards around the world. To begin with, consider that although there are plenty of guidelines around, there exist:


* No universally accepted standards of safety performance measurement, nor for OHS management system content, quality, effectiveness, or certification

* No standards of safety professional roles/responsibilities or for professional certification

* No consensus on the business case for OHS efforts.

(2) Zero Risk:

There is a growing acceptance that achieving Zero Risk is not realistic. Achieving Tolerable Risk is the goal.

(3) Residual Risk:

Residual Risk is the product of not achieving Zero Risk using pro-active OHS management systems. Nevertheless, residual risk must be managed to achieve tolerable levels in the short term and better control or elimination in the long term.

(4) OHS Due Diligence as a legal defense:

In an article in OHS Canada, author Peter Strahlendorf states:

“There is no all-purpose list of “ten steps to due diligence” for any workplace party. There are some obvious activities that everyone should be doing. But so much of what is ‘reasonable care’ is highly workplace-specific. Increasingly, the courts are not happy with generic activities — a general safety training course that took place two years ago at a different location, or a nondescript safety brochure cribbed from someone else. They want to see safety activities that are focused on the day-to-day work.”

(5) ASSE Survey:

A recent on-line internet survey of safety professionals by Professional Safety magazine(ASSE) asked this question:

“In your opinion, what is the most important element for a safety professional to effectively manage safety?”

(1) Know the applicable government regulations and standards

(2) Understand the hazards present and the risks associated with them

(3) Appreciate the workplace culture, especially senior management

(4) Be able to convince the workforce to act in a safe manner

(5) Establish clear cut and achievable safety goals and objectives.

After 4847 responses, items (2) and (4) were considered the most important, in that order, followed by (5), then (3). Number 1 was dead last!

“Safety Culture is what people do when no one is looking” — anonymous


(1) Safety Management Standards:

The common denominator in the lack of universally accepted global safety management standards is the current inability to measure safety performance, or more specifically, to measure the effectiveness of every pro-active safety activity or the cause-effect relationship. Once this problem is rectified, the defining of all the other standards should fall into place. In other words, once we know what activities are effective in detecting and controlling workplace hazards, only then can we identify the required (read ‘best’) OHS management system content, safety professional roles/responsibilities and certification requirements and the related standards for these, etc.

(2) Zero Risk, Tolerable Risk, Residual Risk and OHS Due Diligence:

These concepts all focus on one problem — the continued existence of hazards at the ‘Point of Risk.’ The “Point of Risk” is the point of interaction between the assets (machine, material, environment and worker) and the hazards in the workplace. Reducing or eliminating the Risk at the “Point of Risk” means detecting the uncontrolled hazard and converting it into a controlled hazard. Ideally, this detection/conversion takes place as far upstream in the safety management process as possible (i.e.: long before it reaches the “Point of Risk”). Unfortunately, the reality is that for economic, technical and other reasons, many hazards slip through the upstream filters and still remain at the “Point of Risk” while new, uncontrolled hazards may also be introduced at this point due to uncontrolled and unforeseen changes in workplace conditions and/or voluntary or unwitting actions by the worker.

This begs two questions:

(a) How to manage residual risk/hazards at the “Point of Risk”? , and

(b) How to improve the pro-active upstream detection and control of uncontrolled hazards before they reach the “Point of Risk”?

The Fix? — Total Hazard Management

Declare war on hazards!

Emphasize action-based hazard management (detection, evaluation, control) by process and support specialists, but especially by every line employee and focusing on the Point of Risk! Why?

First, because every single line employee is left with the problem of detecting and short-term managing of residual risks during every single shift for his/her entire working life of 20-35 years.

Short term managing means every line employee performing brief but effective pre-task planning and task-based hazard analysis.

Second, the only way to get constant, broad and comprehensive feedback on what pro-active safety activity (OHS management systems) is or isn’t working, is to get ‘real time’ reporting of uncontrolled hazards (residual hazard burden) and an idea of their root causes from the people who know best — every single line employee!

This is what all employees should be doing when no one is looking!

John E. Little, B.Eng CRM, is a Safety Optimization Technology consultant and can be contacted at jelittle@oricom.ca

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