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The essence of hazard control.

SLIPS AND FALLS WERE THE CAUSE OF more than 12,000 accidental deaths in 1990, and fires were the cause of an additional 4,300 deaths. Many of these calamities were accidents that occurred in the workplace, and they stand as a grim testament to the need for effective hazard control programs at all companies. Injuries to workers and machine downtime have a direct effect on production and can even impact the bottom line. An effective hazard control program, then, serves a dual function by protecting a company's most valuable asset -- its work force -- while preserving profits.

Hazard control has a three-part structure -- prevention, management and correction. Ideally, the prevention stage should be so broad in scope that management can be greatly reduced and the correction phase virtually eliminated. Characteristically, industrial organizations need greater hazard control than white-collar establishments. However, any business can be vulnerable to hazards. For example, a clerk standing on the bottom shelf of a poorly anchored filing cabinet could be pinned beneath it if the cabinet were to fall. This poses a typical office hazard.

Unless a hazard control program can be evaluated through measurable criteria, its benefit will be uncertain. Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto's principle states that in any random grouping, a small percentage of the group accounts for most end results. Often stated as the 80/20 ratio, the principle applies to both efforts and results. In terms of hazard control, this means that most losses come from only a few hazards in any given situation. This principle would seem to imply that emphasis should first be placed on reducing hazards in areas where the worst losses occur. Corrective measures should focus on simpler and less costly procedures. Once the most costly losses are controlled, management can address smaller losses, including the redesign and improvement of machine functions.

In an ideal world, there would be a total elimination of hazards. However, in the real world this is impractical because no operation can be completely risk-free. Safety programs should present the worst hazards to workers so that the time and money invested in them will bring the best return. The goal is to instill safety principles by identifying physical hazards, reducing them as much as possible and monitoring for any faulty safety devices.

Hazard prevention at production facilities, for instance, can be tackled at several stages. For new enterprises, areas of concern include location, site preparation, construction, installation of the physical plant and activation. Thereafter, the main focus encompasses operation and safety issues, with the exception of renovations and improvements. Placing a facility in or near high-crime areas, for example, may be unwise; such a decision warrants careful consideration of the trade-offs. Occupational Safety and Hazard Act (OSHA) standards provide minimum safety requirements for site preparation, construction and operation.

Good layout of the plant is crucial for safe and efficient operation because it enables smooth work flow. Overall, the best test of good design is a proven track record in another facility. Before a company implements a design, regulations set out by the American National Standards Institute should be consulted.

In order to verify the adequacy of safety planning, a plant must be operating at full capacity. In the design and small-scale tryout phases, new operating systems usually do not point up potential hazards. Close observation of workstations, material movement, and the interaction between employees, machines and materials reveals major problems, whereas less obvious problems can be identified through more intense scrutiny of the overall work flow process over time.

Relatively unsafe situations can often be improved by reevaluating a problem area. Successive stages of preventive involvement include policy-level planning, troubleshooting before the need arises and an ongoing review of hazards. Depending on the level of expertise required, these activities can be carried out in-house by using consultants only when needed, or by retaining them on a continuing basis. Hazard evaluation provides a realistic forum for risk identification and analysis. Any intrinsically hazardous condition presents a practical limit to improvement; yet, within those limits, periodic analyses will pay off. For sizable exposures, hazard evaluations are a sound investment, particularly with consultants who typically work on a broader range of problems. More importantly, as outsiders, they get a better, less-biased perspective on established work patterns. All of this makes them better at detecting and preventing risks than in-house staff.

Management Involvement

WITHOUT ACTIVE INVOLVEMENT in policy-level planning by top management, no hazard control policy can be fully effective. One way a risk manager can grab the ear and gain the support of upper management is to employ consultants, thereby avoiding the funneling effect as information goes from lower to higher levels within the organization. Even for expert in-house policymakers, an outside viewpoint often provides a fresh perspective on potential and actual problems.

In large organizations, an in-house staff should be able to furnish a factual basis for evaluating a potential hazard. This requires logging and sorting all known losses and relating them to specific hazards and to a particular facility. Generally, an evaluation should include a comparison of factors such as similar facilities, the main plant location, dates, training and safety programs, and the condition of plant machinery. In addition, relationships between specific workers or work groups should be evaluated. The manager can establish and revise criteria for tabulating data so that it becomes easier to pinpoint the problem areas.

Throughout the process, however, the concern for human health and safety must override cost-cutting measures. Focusing solely on the cost factor has not proven effective for any business with long-term profit expectations. Emphasis on the financials with extensive cost cutting has already proven costly to automobile companies. It pays to get input on hazards from operating personnel. When workers have improvised safety procedures, operating staff can make necessary improvements. In one instance, workers at a factory covered polishing tools with layers of tape to keep fingers from the rotating heads. The manufacturer adapted the workers' stop-gap measure to produce a tool with built-in protection. Finally, the creation of worst-case scenarios can effectively aid in hazard analysis; however, the risk manager may find that workers are highly aware of hazards that can result in injury.

Anticipating Risks

AN EFFECTIVE hazard control program depends on a company's ability to anticipate and minimize risks in certain situations and procedures. Troubleshooting all repetitive processes will uncover some potential problems, and analyzing actual hazards can increase awareness of unforeseen causes and conditions. The more complex the relationship between causes and conditions, the greater the likelihood of gaining significant insights.

The potential problems of all physical facilities are usually evaluated regularly by shop foremen and managers. The evaluation should consist of a review of the facility's design, and information should also be gathered on cumulative problems. Maintenance records should show, for example, the non-slip condition of uncarpeted traffic areas. Management should take walk-throughs of facilities because relying only on mental analysis lacks the immediacy and accuracy of personal involvement.

Since employees become inattentive to procedures and surroundings over time, occasional follow-up tours should be conducted by management or consultants. Joint viewing of workstations and machinery can also prove to be informative.

Operating Considerations

EVEN IN CASES where great vigilance and effective hazard control procedures are brought to bear, some risks will inevitably remain. Some hazards become clear only through hindsight and experience. Typical operating hazards that are not easily pinpointed or anticipated include unexpected combinations of non-hazardous elements into direct hazards; degradation of physical tools that create unsafe situations; and workers who exhibit careless behavior, fatigue or disregard of safety measures.

Many accidents occur because designers have accepted innovations without critical evaluation. For example, weathering steel was highly regarded as a way to reduce the need for painting. When it was first used on the exteriors of buildings, pedestrians got rust on their clothing. The solution was to paint the steel or reroute pedestrian traffic out of danger. Now it is known that such rusting can also cause steel bolts to fail because of overstressing. Degradation of physical elements, such as deterioration of paint, can lead to grave operating hazards. Although existing plants and machinery have a record of maintenance needs, new materials and unusual use of machinery can pose unforeseen hazards. It is crucial to ensure that any untried machine or component can be easily inspected or repaired to help minimize any unpleasant surprises.

Designs that exceed building code limits frequently cause distress or failures of plants and machinery. Remodeling can cause a structure to weaken. For example, cutting out the bottom or middle of support beams destroys their load-bearing capacity. Without proper supervision of such activities, construction and maintenance personnel can cause major physical problems to the building.

In reality, safety programs eventually tend to lose their punch until after an accident happens. Even adequate guards, interlocks, and other safety devices can be defeated by workers who want to increase output or by those who think they can get out of harm's way. Further exacerbating the situation is the fact that some supervisors may neglect to check workplace operations as closely as necessary. The best line of defense is inspection; the realistic manager recognizes that sooner or later, someone will not beat the odds and may be injured.

Determining Responsibility

ONCE AN ACCIDENT has happened, an investigator must learn the cause of the problem, develop or refine corrective measures, minimize the chance of recurrence and determine responsibilities. Especially when third parties are involved, determining responsibilities is of paramount importance. For an investigator, the first question is whether physical hazards played any role in the problem or incident. The next question is whether prescribed procedures were defective or too demanding on workers. Finally, worker and visitor activities may need to be evaluated for correctable errors.

Before correcting the situation, an evaluator must have access to all relevant background data including information on prior or related incidents, the pre-accident situation, and detailed information on equipment and procedures. The ability to determine the cause of a problem depends on the investigator's having access to evidence. If for some reason the inspection is delayed, videotaping, photos and timely witness accounts can be used. Testimony from witnesses and workers can also be useful. Once an accident has revealed a new hazard, it may be possible to change the situation and prevent further accidents. Changing processes can help avoid hazardous situations entirely. For example, robots are useful for repetitive processes and for work operations like painting automobiles that expose workers to long-term hazardous substance dangers.

Planning Revisions

WHEN REVISING the planning process, troubleshooting comes full circle. Hazard control must remain an ongoing, high-level commitment. Without a consistent top-level commitment to reduce hazards in the workplace, risk managers may find it a struggle to introduce and maintain practical programs. Any truly effective program relies on worker involvement, and this will not happen unless workers trust management to look out for their welfare.

A hazard control program will eventually reach the point where the level of loss incidence becomes stable. Then, at that point, the program can be reviewed in terms of costs. If costs are at acceptable levels, revamping current processes is unlikely to happen. However, every viable organization needs to upgrade and constantly find new and better ways of doing things. Initially, independent investigators can offer management ideas on current trends and possibilities. Once the point of diminishing returns is reached, however, frequency of outside involvement can be traded in for better in-house follow-up.

[James A. Christenson is president of Christenson Consultants Inc. in Pittsburgh.]
COPYRIGHT 1992 Risk Management Society Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:industrial safety
Author:Christenson, James A.
Publication:Risk Management
Date:Jun 1, 1992
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