Safe Workplaces Are Not Lucky
We often talk about “risk” and “luck” as if they are intertwined. This makes some sense: When we calculate the probability of an unlikely event—say, the lifetime odds of a shark attack (about 1 in 4,000,000)—we judge that if this event occurs, we must be unlucky.
To manage the risks of accidents and injuries at work, safety leaders rely on a wide variety of tools and concepts gained from experience, consensus standards, and industry best practices. Good luck is not one of them.
To put a finer point on it, workplaces with strong safety records don't get there by being lucky.
The Hierarchy of Controls
Instead of luck, safety professionals rely on a “hierarchy of controls” to minimize the risks of work-related injuries, illnesses, chemical exposures, and other incidents.
1. Substitution/elimination. Can a process be re-imagined or a chemical ingredient replaced with a less-hazardous alternative?
2. Engineering controls. If employees are at risk of cold stress, can we add heaters to the work area to keep them warm? If employees are at risk from machines with spinning blades, adding machine guards is an example of an engineering control (it's also a requirement).
3. Administrative and work practice controls. Examples of administrative or work practice controls include adequately training employees about workplace hazards, hanging warning signs in dangerous areas, or scheduling shifts so that at least one reliable, experienced employee is always around to assist newer staff.4. Personal Protective Equipment. The last resort for protecting employees from hazards in the workplace is personal protective equipment or PPE. Depending on the industry and type of work being done, PPE runs the gamut from the classics—gloves, safety goggles, and a helmet—to a full-face respirator or a "hazmat suit" rated for emergency response operations.
If you ask a safety professional how they achieve success, they might say "We were lucky."
Don't believe it.
When a safety professionals sees potential for an injury or accident, they don't rub a rabbit's foot, cross their fingers, or put on their lucky pair of blue jeans. They thoughtfully analyze the situation, refer to the hierarchy of controls, and find creative and efficient ways to eliminate and mitigate risks from an endless number of workplace hazards.
More 2023 workplace health & safety blogs:
OSHA Inspection Policy Update: Specific Site Targeting (SST)
OSHA Expands Aggressive Penalty Policy
Can a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) Be Wrong?
Visit Lion.com/OSHA for a full range of convenient online safety training that includes Lion Membership for ongoing regulatory compliance support.
The OSHA 10 Hour Training for General Industry provides mission-critical job safety training for workers with potential exposure to common health and safety hazards. OSHA Standards addressed in LIon's 10 Hour OSHA course include hazard communication, forklifts, fire extinguishers, materials handling, and more.
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