An Obligation for Safety

by Carl Potter, CSP


What is the Obligation?

Organizations have an obligation to make sure that they do not injure employees while in pursuit of profit.  Likewise, employees are obligated to do everything they can to make sure that they do everything they can to not get hurt, create a work environment where others do not get hurt, and participate in the safety process.  The opposite of these actions is to be part of the problem.  There is no middle ground – you are either part of the solution, or you are part of the problem.  In my seminars and workshops, I share the words of management consultant, Price Pritchett, who says, "The factory of the future will have two employees, a security guard and a watch dog.  The guard is there to feed and water the dog and the dog is there to bite the guard if he tries to touch the machines.”  Workplaces are full of inherent risks for injury, but the intention is that apparent risks have a consequent mitigation. 


The logical path to mitigation


For an employer to mitigate risk, they must first recognize the hazard.  Although that sounds simple, my decades of experience clearly demonstrate that people see what they want to see.    In high-risk industries, this applies to both employees and employers.  When I conduct my walk-through at a plant in preparation for the delivery of my Hazard Recognition and Control (HRC) workshop it is apparent that employees, supervisors, managers and owners tend to overlook obvious hazards that can cause serious injury.


Many times, as I conduct my pre-workshop walkthrough, I’ll hear my escort (usually a member of management) saying, "Wow! How did we miss that on our inspections." Interestingly, this individual will walk by without correcting or guarding the hazard.  It is not unusual to find that this person has a high expectation for employees and supervisors to make a demonstrated commitment to safety.  Before we get too far in the walk-through, I have to stop and ask them, "So why are you leaving this in the same condition?"  There is a gap between observation and mitigation that we must overcome.


To handle the day-in and day-out hazards that show up in the workplace, the organization must have a process much like the one OSHA uses after an inspection to ensure that cited (unsafe) conditions are taken care of within a set amount of time.  This process must be one where every recognized workplace hazard is corrected and documented.  Further, the safety management process (SMP) should include a root cause analysis to determine the source of the hazard.  In the best SMP, there will be a constant mechanism for improving the situation.  OSHA supports this type of process through ANSI Z10 and the Voluntary Protection Program.  In the book ZERO, Responsible Safety Management by Design written by Dr. Deb Potter, PhD and yours truly, we explain the processes of SMP in more detailed, but simple to implement manner.  One of the key factors of the process is to conduct an (FHA) Formal Hazard Assessment.


Making the Effort to Identify

Here’s why such a specific, validated hazard assessment is an essential part of a SMP.  Imagine building a fence around your entire plant.  Whether you work in a manufacturer, service industry, or laboratory, the fence (even if it is imaginary) defines the boundary or scope of where to look for hazards.  Once the assessment is completed, you can begin a systematic process to evaluate the hazards identified for the risk level and in turn make conscious decisions to mitigate the risk.  As I previously noted, the challenge is that many employees, supervisors, managers and owners do not see that hazards.  Conducting an FHA properly includes involving a significant number of people in the process to reduce the chances of missing hazards. The good news is that it is a black and white assessment or one might say, "the hazard exists, or it doesn't."  Contrary to a perception survey, this type of survey is not a cause for alarm by employees; they become the providers of information about the hazards they face in doing their jobs. 


The Result: Logical Steps to Injury Prevention

The important concept to keep in mind with the FHA is that you now have specific information to use in preventing hazards from causing injury in your workplace.  In addition, when OSHA comes knocking on your door you will impress them with your process that has identified hazards that you as an employer legally bound to recognize.  Because of the inherent risks that are involved with workplaces targeting zero injuries is a tough job.  But if organizations continue to just throw "safety stuff" at a perceived problem, they will never know how to prevent injuries.  Each organization must be obliged to have an SMP that seeks to be specific in identifying hazards that are inherent to the workplace as well as those that pop-up daily so that everyone can go home every day without injury.




For more information about conducting an FHA that includes documentation that your organization can use in their SMP and have ready to show OSHA your due diligence for creating a workplace free of recognized hazards, contact Dr. Deb Potter, PhD or Carl Potter, CSP at 800-259-6209 to set up a conference call.


Also you may want to purchase a copy of ZERO! at for each of your management staff to read an study.


"Carl Potter spoke to our Foreman's Conference, delivering his Supervising for Safety presentation. His remarks were right on target!" - XcelEnergy
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