Safety in the Absence of Unreasonable Risk

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Safety is the absence of unreasonable risk. While this is one of the best definitions of “safety” out there, “safety” is actually an outcome or result. The statement might better be: “Safety is an outcome of the absence unreasonable risk”. Regardless of how you state it the focus on keeping workers safe and healthy has greater financial and reputational incentives than ever before.

The irony of this focus is that in spite of companies supplying better PPE, writing better safe work procedures, and focusing on emergency preparation, injuries and even fatalities continue. In fact, workplace fatalities have been increasing and tend to increase in step with how busy the economy is. It is the increase of unsafe acts that is driving these statistics.

Unsafe acts account for 80 to 90 per cent of all injuries. To be fair, many unsafe acts take place because a worker is new and does not know better. Essentially this is an unsafe condition because a company is required by law to inform and train workers about the hazards of their job. We know better in our shops.

Most injuries here that are the result of an unsafe act, the worker knows better. Usually, someone is taking a short cut because they think this is saving time. This calculation is always flawed. If you rationally step back and look at the situation, you quickly see that you never save time taking so called short cuts. A classic example is jumping down from about one meter (39 inches for the metrically impaired). You can jump down without injury quite a number of times. However, if you do not see the wet spot on the floor that is extremely slippery, if you slip just before you jump, if someone placed something on your landing spot, you can sustain a significant injury. For the sake of argument, say you tweaked your ankle and had to do Modified Duties for a week. How many thousand times do you have to jump down one meter instead of sitting down and swinging your legs over the side? And what if you had injured yourself more severely? What if you broke your back and ended your working career?

There is no short cut that is worthwhile. There are set ways of doing things that are proven over time (our work procedures). If you think that what you are doing might be risky, it probably is. It pays to stop several times a day and give yourself that four second check to see what hazards there might be around you. You might find an easier and safer way to move something. You might discover that conditions have changed. In the end, the vast majority of unreasonable risk is from our own risk taking. If we truly think about what we are doing, we are less likely to sustain an injury.


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