Wednesday, June 10, 2015

From Safety 2015: Risk Assessment ● Risk Assessment ● Risk Assessment

Post by Safety 2015 Guest Blogger Steve Minshall, CSP, CIH

Why do I say “Risk Assessment” three times? Isn’t once enough? What are all these crazy questions you’re asking me? You’re mama might have told you not to come [with a hat tip to Three Dog Night and their song “Mama Told Me (Not to Come)”], but if you missed the ASSE’s 3-day risk assessment course leading up to Safety 2015, you may need some whiskey in your water and sugar in your tea to help get over your transgression.

If you’ve read this far, I’m not going to bore you with a history of risk assessment, mainly because I’m not expert in the history of this methodology, but you can imagine that humans have been engaging in risk assessment and risk management for a long time – but haven’t always called it by those terms. The call to use risk assessment, though, is growing louder and attracting more attention and followers. In fact, the organizers of this course probably weren’t too surprised when the registrations grew to the point that they needed two classrooms and two instructors to accommodate all the people who signed up.

So here we are with OSH professionals always on the hunt for the next big thing to elevate their processes to the next level. Many, it seems, are tiring of behavior-based safety (BBS), though some are not yet ready to admit defeat, and there are always those who are ready to bash BBS while simultaneously ignoring the principles of behavioral science and espousing their own next best way of “doing safety." Risk assessment/risk management could be that next best way and it will be wonderful if that turns out to be the case.

Detractors of BBS eschew its supporters who say fervently that if your BBS process is failing, you’re just not doing it right. The detractors say BBS just doesn’t work. I happen to agree that if your BBS process is not achieving the desired results, chances are that something, or more than one “something," is not being done correctly. BBS is not necessarily easy to do well and right, and its even harder to sustain.

There may be a cautionary lesson here. What if you go wholesale into risk assessment and you don’t get the results you expected? Would that be because the risk assessment methodology you chose to use was faulty? That the whole premise of risk assessment lacked scientific validity, rigorous testing and peer-reviewed articles to prove it does what it’s purported to do? Can you point to scientific, peer-reviewed articles (that you have, in fact, read) that support your particular style/brand of risk assessment?

Frankly, I hope that risk assessment is among the next best things we do to advance OSH. However, from what I saw over the last 3 days, risk assessment may not be a whole lot easier to do right and well than is a BBS process. You need training in the methodology. You need confidence in the methodology you chose, even though it may, as yet, be based on some unproven assumptions. You need commitment from lots of people, including your management. You need perseverance and the persistence to hone and refine your methodology. You need to track your data and the results, and communicate them as transparently as you can. And, you need to realize that whether it’s done poorly or well, there will be some people who just don’t like what you’re doing – they won’t see the value in all the time it takes and worse they may become disillusioned when the controls your process says need to be in place simply never materialize.

I encourage you to sign up for a risk assessment course – take this one the next time it’s offered. Immerse yourself in the new jargon, the formulas and calculations, the mystique of the next grand thing, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll see some things you ain’t never seen before.