Safety and Health Article Archive

The Key Questions of Safety

By David F. Coble, CSP

When evaluating hazards, safety professionals ask questions about probability, severity, possibility, extent, etc. But safety managers don't usually have the authority to decide if and how money is spent to correct a hazard. The buck usually stops with the plant manager, city manager, president, or a higher level. When the safety manager suggests an improvement, the first question he/she hears is normally "What will it cost?" We are a capitalist country and there is nothing at all wrong with this question. But what are the other key questions your management should ask?

Three questions...

  1. Would I let my adult children be exposed to this hazard?
    It's true that the answer to this question may be more emotion-based than reason-based, but if the answer is "definitely not," then the hazard may be a medium to high risk and some control measure should be implemented.

  2. If someone were hurt because of this hazard, what would I implement to make it safer?
    And if I would make changes after an accident, why don't I make changes now before someone is hurt? For example, an employee stumbles down a set of stairs and breaks a leg. The stairs are built according to the standards and a rule has been implemented to keep one hand free to hold the handrail. There isn't much more a manager can do. On the other hand, an employee loses a finger on a machine during normal production operations, where a shear point simply has a sign reading "Danger Keep Fingers Out." Well, if you decide to guard the machine now, why didn't you guard if before the accident?

  3. If something bad happens, how will this make me or my company look?
    Johnson & Johnson handled the Tylenol crisis superbly. Emmet Roe, the owner of a chicken processing plant in Hamlet, NC wound up in jail, out of business and vilified in addition to the fire and 25 deaths that resulted from it. How many times have we heard employees say during interviews that during a crunch, safety is lip service? If a manager truly believes that employees are the most important asset in an organization, the manager has to show it.

From an organizational standpoint, safety is not first, but should be equal in importance to production or service, quality, cost control and employee relations. However, from the employee's viewpoint, there is nothing more important at work than going home intact. When a manager asks these three questions and answers them honestly and appropriately, then that most important asset can work in a safe and healthful environment.

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