An Obligation for Safety

Feb. 17, 2012
Organizations have an obligation to make sure that they do not injure employees while in pursuit of profit. Likewise, employees are obligated to do everything they can to make sure that they do not get hurt, create a work environment where others do not get hurt and participate in the safety process.

The opposite of these actions is to be part of the problem. There is no middle ground – you are either part of the solution or you are part of the problem. As management consultant Price Pritchett said: "The factory of the future will have two employees, a security guard and a watch dog. The guard is there to feed and water the dog and the dog is there to bite the guard if he tries to touch the machines.”

Workplaces are full of inherent risks for injury, but the intention is that apparent risks have a consequent mitigation.

The Logical Path to Mitigation

For an employer to mitigate risk, first recognize the hazards. Although that sounds simple, decades of experience clearly demonstrate that people see what they want to see. In high-risk industries, this applies to both employees and employers. During a walk-through at a plant prior to conducting our work, it is apparent that employees, supervisors, managers and owners tend to overlook obvious hazards that can cause serious injury.

"Wow! How did we miss that on our inspections?" is a common statement during the walk-throughs. Interestingly, this individual will walk by without correcting or guarding the hazard. It is not unusual to find that this person has a high expectation for employees and supervisors to make a demonstrated commitment to safety. Before we get too far in the walk-through, the question becomes, "So why are you leaving this in the same condition?" There is a gap between observation and mitigation that we must overcome.

To handle the day-in and day-out hazards that show up in the workplace, the organization must have a process much like the one OSHA uses after an inspection to ensure that cited (unsafe) conditions are taken care of within a set amount of time. This process must be one where every recognized workplace hazard is corrected and documented. Further, the safety management process (SMP) should include a root cause analysis to determine the source of the hazard.

In the best SMP, there will be a constant mechanism for improving the situation. OSHA supports this type of process through ANSI Z10 and the Voluntary Protection Program. One of the key factors of the process is to conduct an formal hazard assessment (FHA).

Making the Effort to Identify

Here's why such a specific, validated hazard assessment is an essential part of an SMP. Imagine building a fence around your entire plant. Whether you work in manufacturing, the service industry or a laboratory, the fence (even if it is imaginary) defines the boundary or scope of where to look for hazards. Once the assessment is completed, you can begin a systematic process to evaluate the hazards identified for the risk level and in turn, make conscious decisions to mitigate the risk.

The challenge is that many employees, supervisors, managers and owners do not see the hazards. Properly conducting an FHA involves a significant number of people in the process to reduce the chances of missing hazards. The good news is that it is a black-and-white assessment or one might say, "The hazard exists or it doesn't." Contrary to a perception survey, this type of survey is not a cause for alarm by employees; they become the providers of information about the hazards they face in doing their jobs.

The Result: Injury Prevention

The important concept to keep in mind with the FHA is that you now have specific information to use in preventing hazards from causing injury in your workplace. In addition, when OSHA comes knocking on your door, you will impress them with your process. Because of the inherent risks that are involved with workplaces, targeting zero injuries is a tough job. Nevertheless, if organizations continue to just throw "safety stuff" at a perceived problem, they will never know how to prevent injuries.

Each organization must be obliged to have an SMP that seeks to be specific in identifying hazards that are inherent to the workplace, as well as those that pop-up daily so that everyone can go home every day without injury.

Carl Potter, CSP, CMC, and Deb Potter, Ph.D., CMC, work with organizations that want to create an environment where nobody gets hurt. As advocates of a zero-injury workplace, they are safety speakers, authors, and consultants to industry. For information about their programs and products, call 800-259-6209 or visit

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