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Safety Risk Hierarchy

July 14, 2014

In an article on www.ehstoday.com, David Rebbitt discusses the risks workers and employers are willing to take with safety in the workplace.  The title “Risk Tolerant or Control Deprived”Safety Risk Hierarchy describes the struggle that employees may have when faced with risks that they recognize as a problem but may not have the resources or knowledge available to effectively take care of.  With all the talk of making sure companies have a good safety culture, employees need to be made more aware or given more of an opportunity to eliminate risks.

The article mentions the hierarchy of controls.  It is a list of different ways to eliminate safety risks in a workplace starting from the most effective to least effective:
1.)    Elimination: Eliminate the risk completely, most effective
2.)    Substitution: Reduce the risk by using a different work method, process or product
3.)    Engineering: Design out the hazard or separate it from workers
4.)    Administrative: Create or enforce procedures, policies or checklists
5.)    Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Provide workers with equipment such as ear plugs or safety boots in order to reduce the risk they take in a dangerous environment

In a study done by Professional Safety it was shown that companies rarely use the top 3 listed in the hierarchy.  While procedures, extra training and PPE’s have their place in the workplace and are important, they are probably the least expensive but also will not eliminate the risk completely.  Employees are given new signs, new safety equipment, extra training or are told to be more careful.  For example the study by Professional Safety talks about a fall accident from a ladder while an employee is trying to access a high control panel.  Employees are given more training on ladder safety in order to keep this from happening again.  A more effective technique would be to eliminate the risk completely by moving the control panel to a safe, lower area.  This would take engineering and more money however the risk of another slip and fall would be gone.  Getting safety specialists involved in the design of new buildings and the layout of work areas is a good way to help eliminate risk as well as a higher move on the hierarchy of control.

It would make sense to also give employees the opportunity to make suggestions to more effectively eliminate the risks they face every day.  Letting them get involved in rearranging a work place or replacing risky dangerous equipment or products like the safety flooring they use on a daily basis would give them more of an option than being told that they need to take care or attend more training.

Rebbitt, Dave. “Risk-Tolerant or Control-Deprived?” www.ehstoday.com. June 4, 2014. July 9, 2014.

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