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Safety Management: Maintaining the Focus


January 1, 2003
By Pulp & Paper Canada

An awful lot has been written about ‘this, that and the other’ way of managing safety to perfection — unsafe acts vs. unsafe conditions, behaviour-based safety, system-based safety, root causes, comp…

An awful lot has been written about ‘this, that and the other’ way of managing safety to perfection — unsafe acts vs. unsafe conditions, behaviour-based safety, system-based safety, root causes, compliance-based safety, eliminate all hazards at the source, ergonomics, WHMIS-MSDS — the debates rage on. It’s time to step back, reflect, and then to focus on the basics, what the real problems are, and what really works day in and day out, month after month, year after year.

The fundamental principles on which safety is founded include:

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Employee health and safety has first priority over organizational business objectives.

All injuries/illnesses can be prevented.

Zero risk does not exist. Tolerable risk is the goal. There is always a degree of residual risk.

The sole purpose of the safety management system is to manage all activities and efforts dedicated to the identification, assessment and control of uncontrolled hazards. Such controls are selected as per a cost-effective safety hierarchy process in this order:

1. Eliminate the hazard or reduce its effects by design. i.e. “engineering out” the hazard.

2. Apply safeguards — barriers, protective devices, control systems appropriate to the risk.

3. Administrative controls such as warnings, information for use, supervision and safe work practices.

So, prime points to focus on:

1. MANAGEMENT COMMITMENT: If all management is not prepared to totally commit to the 3 fundamental principles on which safety is founded as well as effective risk control then any safety effort is doomed!

2. HAZARD IDENTIFICATION & TRAINING: This is the core activity of any safety management system — you cannot control what you do not see, identify, or recognize. Special training is essential to develop hazardous situation identification, causal analysis and reporting skills for all employees, technicians, engineers, and supervisors. A daily employee hazard count is also a Key Real-Time Performance Indicator(KPI).

3. RESIDUAL RISK & TASK-BASED TRAINING: No matter how good the organization gets at identifying and eliminating uncontrolled hazards at the source, there always remains some residual risk. In some instances, the risk can only be reduced to tolerable levels for economic and practical reasons. This is aggravated by ‘at-risk’ behaviour at the point of risk by the employees who may be distracted or inattentive for whatever legitimate reason such as fatigue, time constraints, personal problems, complacency, etc. Recent studies by safety consultants J.M. Stewart, Larry Wilson and Dan Petersen indicate that ‘at risk’ behaviour by employees is still the overwhelming direct cause of workplace injuries (more than 80%), even on routine tasks.

For this reason, special training in pre-task analysis and planning is recommended for all line employees to help keep their minds active, alert and on the task. The emphasis here is also on task-based analysis as a last minute check to reveal as yet undetected hazards, especially during maintenance work.

4. PERFORMANCE OR REGULATORY COMPLIANCE? To paraphrase Bill Clinton, “It’s about performance, stupid!” Legal is nice, but safe is better!

John E. Little is a risk management consultant specializing in safety optimization technologies. Contact him at: jelittle@solabs.com

The Health and Safety Management System

The basics of effective risk control:

1.INPUT: All uncontrolled hazards.

2.PROCESS: the health and safety management system comprises three levels of risk control:

LEVEL 1: management arrangements (plans and objectives) necessary to organize, plan, control and monitor the design and implementation of risk control systems.

LEVEL 2: risk control systems — the basis for ensuring that adequate workplace precautions are provided and maintained.

LEVEL 3: effective workplace precautions provided and maintained to prevent harm to people at the point of risk.

3.OUTPUT: Controlled hazards due to the efforts in the Process (2) above.

4.OUTCOME: Ideally no injuries, no illnesses, no incidents, low cost of OHS Risk, stakeholder satisfaction.


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