Some thoughts on Safety

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Forum topic by Woodfix posted 11-30-2009 07:21 AM 1240 views 0 times favorited 3 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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343 posts in 3502 days

11-30-2009 07:21 AM

Topic tags/keywords: resource safety risk management

At this point in my woodworking journey I don’t feel that there is all that much I can offer in the way of guidance or direction in the how to or why to of working with wood. But as a Safety Inspector who specialises in investigating workplace accidents I think I have something to offer. So here are some thoughts and experiences on the issue of workplace health and safety.

At the outset I will tell you this stuff will be mainly of use to the commercial person, the employer or manager of others. As an individual, working alone as a hobby or an occupation, safety is your responsibility. Be safe, be careful, stay within (or close to) your competence, plan ahead and don’t rush. But the moment you employ others to work for you, a more planned and deliberate approach is required (usually by law). This is not a ‘how to’, or ‘do this’.

These are my personal opinions, thoughts and experiences. It should not be taken as the law, theory, or gospel; although the law and theory will be mentioned. Hopefully it is at least interesting but hopefully enlightening.

Quite often, when I tell someone that I am a safety inspector the response is “you wouldn’t be all that busy, would you. In this modern society, people wouldn’t be getting hurt at work. That sort of thing only happens in third world countries”. It may surprise you to learn that this is said in all seriousness. Certainly, the frequency is less than the lesser developed countries but the violence and trauma of the individual cases is no less.

When asked about my job, I say “I have a very interesting job, unfortunately”. It is a good job, and I believe in what I do. But I look forward to as many boring days at work as possible, because my job gets interesting when bad things happen.

So this about trying to promote boredom in my workplace, because that is a really good thing.

So the first topic “Risk Management – What is it good for?” Remind you of a song, “Absolutely Nothing”. And a lot of people would argue that is true, but its not.

Safety theory (there is a lot of it) provides a fairly generic concept being ‘why should an organisation invest in Risk Management?’ Generally 3 reasons are given but here I will give you four, with the last being mine.

Reason 1 – Risk Management will ‘prevent’ injuries and illnesses in the workplace. Unfortunately, this statement is intentionally not accurate. Even the most comprehensive Risk Management System cannot provide an absolute guarantee that injuries will not occur. From personal experience, I have investigated incidents where they employ university qualified safety managers at the location. Then even more qualified and experienced safety managers at the state and national level. They had mind blowingly (not a real word) comprehensive Risk Management Systems. And yet there I was asking “how did this person end up bleeding on your floor”. The answer is systems rely on humans to operate and no system can be that comprehensive as to take into account every human factor.

Thankfully what is known FOR A FACT is that effective risk management will reduce the chance or risk that an incident will occur.

So having Risk Management will not guarantee that accidents will not happen, but it will reduce the chances of them happening.

Reason 2 – Risk Management will prove that we did ‘everything’ to prevent an incident from happening and it is not our fault. Again this is a misleading statement. An investigation will basically look at two things, the specifics of what happened and what is the overall situation?

So what happened? What is the specific set of circumstances that lead to the person being injured? Quite often I equate accidents as being like a stack of moving plates, each with a hole in it and unless all the holes line up an accident will not occur. Sometimes they are very big holes and the holes were always going to line up. Sometimes they are very small holes and it was just bad luck. After an incident, the holes are quite often very evident and easy to identify. So now the regulator (government) knows what happened because they have found all the holes. In one investigation there were so many holes it was hard to work out which ones were the particular ones that caused the accident.

The overall situation is about risk management. What did the organisation do to try and plug those holes? Was it just an unfortunate omission? This is an organisation that was really trying to manage safety and were just unlucky. Or is this a business that needs a good kick in the head.

The regulatory authority ends up doing a balancing act. On one end of the scale:
- An injury that the worker will fully recover from.
- Caused by a risk that was not that evident.
- An organisation with rock solid risk management.

Alternately, on the other end of the scale:
- An injury the worker will never recover from.
- Caused by a readily foreseeable risk.
- An organisation with no demonstrable attempt at risk management.

Yes these are the extremes, but I have investigated both of these situations. You do the math, who got the kick in the head.

Remember every situation is different and there are infinite graduations between the extremes. So at what point is what was done in the way of risk management going to tip the balance away from being penalised.

Reason 3 – Risk Management will reduce the financial consequences of a workplace injury.
There you are, standing in court, you have just pleaded guilty (or been found guilty). You missed something that you really should not have missed and a worker has been injured, badly (you don’t get prosecuted for a stubbed toe). This is when you can say “your honour we really did try”. We had risk management in place, we had procedures, we had this, we had that. Now Risk Management is what will get you a lesser fine.

Where I am from, the courts assign penalties for workplace health and safety matters based on precedent. Very basically, that is what penalties have been given by the court previously for similar matters. This is based on a range ie. $30 000 to $40 000. This might sound like a lot of money but in other jurisdictions the range for a workplace injury (not death) is even more that this.

Reason 4 – Living with it (Mine).
Now I am assuming that you are a normal caring individual. If not this part will not matter to you. Why should an organisation implement rock solid risk management. To prevent injuries and illness at work. Because you don’t want to have to visit a worker in hospital, because you don’t want to explain to a wife/husband why their partner won’t be coming home, ever; and because you don’t what to be lying in bed contemplating what has happened, and thinking I wish I had done ……

-- I would rather have the most memories, than the most money.

3 replies so far

View degoose's profile


7245 posts in 3557 days

#1 posted 11-30-2009 11:55 AM

Certainly food for thought… thanks Doug.

-- Don't drink and use power tools @

View lilredweldingrod's profile


2496 posts in 3310 days

#2 posted 11-30-2009 09:45 PM

Thank you woodfix. I was service manager in a shop repairing gasoline tankers. Some times the owner got short with me for all the safety meetings. I’m the only one that never “popped” a tank. No matter how much education you try give people, they still have bad days. It is impossible to prevent all accidents, but you have to try.

If your head isn’t right, go have coffee. Oh and unplug the machines, my grand son might wander in.

View KayBee's profile


1083 posts in 3449 days

#3 posted 12-01-2009 01:17 AM

Thanks for the reminders. Sometimes we all rely on guards and such too much.

-- Karen - a little bit of stupid goes a long way

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