There will always be some level of risk in our industry, but we can take steps to reduce the impact.
By Sam Lines
Sam Lines is a technical sales representative and safety director for Concrete Sealants Inc. in New Carlisle, Ohio. He has more than 15 years of experience in the precast concrete industry.
Risk is something we face daily. How we respond to risk is a choice that we make, often without even realizing it. Every day we encounter situations where we could be injured or become ill. Consider, for example, the amount of risk involved just to get to work. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recorded 43,443 traffic-related fatalities in 2005. For every single fatality in industry, there are eight fatalities on the road. And you thought work was dangerous!
The point is that there will always be some amount of risk in everything we do. It is virtually impossible to eliminate all forms of it from our environment. But the wise person will evaluate the possible risks and then take steps to reduce the impact. Someone who works in the construction industry on a high-rise building may have a higher tolerance for risk than the average office worker. But regardless of the person’s occupation, some level of risk will always be present.
What is risk?
According to Webster’s dictionary, risk is defined as the possibility of loss or injury. Insurance companies face the reality of risk when they write new policies. A high risk rating will result in a substantially higher premium for automobile insurance. Of those 43,443 traffic fatalities in 2005, 30,224 were male. That amounts to seven out of every 10. Based on these statistics, one can infer that men assume more risk when driving than women. This is one reason that, on average, auto insurance premiums are higher for males than for females.
Safety managers will also evaluate potential risks to prevent injuries and illness, as well as property loss. An employee working with concrete, which is very caustic, will increase his risk of skin burns. To offset this risk, the safety manager will require employees performing these functions to wear proper protective equipment. Other controls may also be initiated to reduce the risk of injury. One of the main responsibilities of safety professionals is to reduce the amount of risk that is present at the work site.
Does this mean that the employee is completely safe? Of course not. Other hazards may still exist. The list of possible causes of injury is nearly endless. If we were to make our employees completely safe, our safety policies would require them to wear suits of armor, sealed and with their own air supplies, but of course this is not practical. The safety manager must use his or her best judgment to implement policies that have the greatest chance of reducing the probability of an employee becoming ill or being injured at work.
Risk assessment: the components
This is where a risk assessment analysis comes in handy. Assessing the risk objectively means evaluating the action to determine the importance, size or value of the risk. In other words, a risk assessment assists the safety manager in determining the risk level present in a task. It also reduces the amount of subjectivity one has when making an observation. A risk assessment can be an extremely complicated task – and one that many will try to avoid. But it doesn’t have to be that difficult.
A risk assessment is simply a function of two main factors: the magnitude of the potential loss and the probability that it will occur. The magnitude of potential for an injury could be stated as the potential for a fatality, the loss of a limb or maybe just first aid. If the potential loss is a fatality, then the magnitude for this factor will be high. On the other hand, if the highest probable injury is a paper cut, then the magnitude will be very low.
Probability is the other factor in this pair. Based on the statistics mentioned earlier, it is evident that motor vehicles cause fatalities – and a lot of them. So do we stop driving? No, because the probability is very low, about one fatality for every 67 million miles driven. The average person will probably not drive even 1 million miles in a lifetime. The same is true in a precast plant. The probability that an event will occur has an impact on the amount of risk that is present.
Here is a practical example of assessing the magnitude and probability present in a precast plant. The magnitude of having a casting fall is very high. If it were to fall on someone, the likely outcome would be a fatality. But it does happen, and compared to the number of times that castings are lifted without an incident, the likelihood or probability of the incident is minimal. On the other hand, tripping or falling may lead to a serious injury but is probably not life threatening. And since there are many trips and falls in a plant, most of which go unreported, the probability is high that an incident could occur.
In addition to magnitude and probability, there is one additional factor that should be considered when performing a safety risk assessment: frequency. How frequently a task is performed will impact the potential for loss. This factor is the third multiplier in determining the risk analysis rate. For example, if someone performs a task 10 times per day, he has a higher risk than someone who performs the same task only once per week. If someone regularly handles overhead loads, then the number of opportunities (frequency) that a load could fall on him is relatively high.
Risk assessment: the analysis
A risk analysis examines the data available and assigns a level of risk. There are many types of risks in manufacturing, including safety, product defects and market stability. Many tools are available to managers that help them make some sense of the data. Some of the same tools used to prevent nonconformances in the manufacturing process can be used to prevent incidents from occurring in the plant. Quality and safety management have the same basic goal; when something bad happens, initiate steps to prevent it from recurring.
In advanced quality systems, a tool is used to evaluate and eliminate potential failures. This tool is called the Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA). Like the risk analysis, an FMEA uses three factors to assess and prioritize the risk of potential failures. The severity, likelihood and inability to detect are all rated on a scale of 1 to 10. Then the individual ratings are all multiplied to achieve an overall rating. The highest rating is 1,000 and the lowest is 1.
Using the FMEA as a model, risk can be rated and prioritized for safety as well. A sample chart using this method is shown in Figure 1at right. The Job Task, Potential Hazard and Body Part Affected are listed. The next step is to rate the severity by linking the level of severity to a number. This number is used to determine the risk rating. The potential for injury and frequency of access are also handled in this manner. The risk analysis rate is the product of the three variables. This rate can be used to prioritize the risks associated with a given task.
The example shown is used to evaluate the use and selection of personal protective equipment. The chart can be modified to work in other safety and health areas as well. When performing a plant safety assessment, use the risk analysis format to prioritize the hazards that have the highest risk. Implementing steps to reduce those risks will have the greatest likelihood of reducing injuries.
Using another quality tool, a Pareto chart (Figure 2), common hazards can be listed in descending order based on the risk analysis rate. The hazard with the highest rate is shown on the left side, and the hazard with the lowest rate is shown on the right. A Pareto chart provides a visual method for displaying the risk analysis data to show which risks are highest. Taking steps to reduce or eliminate the conditions surrounding the task with the highest risk will have the greatest positive impact on the health and safety of the workers.
When driving a car, seatbelts, airbags and other safety devices reduce the risk of being involved in a traffic fatality. And although the risk is reduced, it is never completely eliminated. Sometimes things happen that we never could have imagined. Some level of risk will always be present. Automakers are continuously evaluating new and innovative ways to make driving a car safer. Similarly, it is important for us to update the risk assessments for all positions in our plants on a regular basis.
The risk assessment analysis is a great tool for objectively evaluating and prioritizing the identified risks. Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations and state or local regulations should always be consulted when evaluating an occupational hazard. Continuously improving the safety and health of employees should be the goal of any organization.