Industrial Safety and Risk Assessment

WPA art project, Artist Robert Lachenmann 1938

WPA art project, Artist Robert Lachenmann 1938

In the design process of a facility, of a product or a process, plans often have unintended consequences.

Industrial Safety is a constantly evolving target as employers gain knowledge of what actually happens when their employees make their product. Once processes are designed and / or implemented, it is critical to perform a risk assessment to look for unforeseen errors in design. They are ALWAYS there. It is not a matter of incompetence. It is a matter of many moving and shifting parts and the decisions made as the process evolves.

Performing a facility wide risk assessment can provide this critical knowledge. This knowledge can prevent injury, death, facility fires or collapse. It can highlight necessary control mechanisms such as infrared testing of electrical circuits, routine hoist inspections and machine guarding surveys. These tools, as well as many others, can help prevent catastrophic loss to employees, the process and the organization. These losses can and have eliminated an organization’s presence in the market. For example, 50% of organizations that sustain a major fire are out of business in 5 years (Data from FM Global). Many businesses are commodity businesses and have legitimate competitors. If a business cannot make product for 6 months, their customers have moved on to competitive products from other suppliers. Retaining market share is somewhere between difficult and impossible.

Key to performing risk assessments to highlight gaps in industrial safety is to observe the work as it is being done – which is to say, not as the procedures indicate or as management thinks or wants it done. A skilled safety professional has the ability to establish a rapport with the work force and management to get the essential information and apply his professional knowledge to assess the risk. This assessment generally provides two levels of information. Information on what to immediately correct (the task) and information on what failed in the design process that led to the need for corrective action. Both need to be considered and fixed to mitigate the risk over the long term.

The risk assessment is as far reaching as the management staff can accommodate. Obviously, the more open the process, the more likely it is that significant information can be obtained and acted upon. At a minimum, observations of the process and the employees in that process must be taken.