Health, Safety and Environmental Risk Management is like a Religion

Health and Safety, such a wide term it covers all walks of life and technologies. It’s like a religion, it has existed since the beginning of time. It has a number of names, absent from harm, risk management, risk protection, etc.  

Humans by their various activities can be risk averse. This is often seen in activities that generate a thrill or high degree of excitement. This often leads to understanding acceptable risks. There starts the division. We all have different degrees of both. 

When I mentioned Health and Safety being like a religion, I was referring to following the rules or form. Short cuts are most often the big factors, followed by time, cost and effort.  

Now we are getting close to dealing with the subject of Health and Safety. I prefer to use the term risk management as it gets us closer and quicker to dealing with the problems that may arise in causing harm.  

To meet the term ‘absent from harm’ is a battle; a war if you like. The enemy is in danger or dangerous. Unfortunately, the enemy has allies in humans that creep up on us, such as some of us at times that do not like to follow the rules or form, and think they know best. It often fails.  

Back to a religion, nothing is new, only changed in form or technology.  Humans still have the weakness of going against the rules in some way at some time. A simple explanation is crossing the road, circumstances at times cause them to disobey the rules and take a chance.  

Here is where we start considering risk management. This means starting with the basics.  It is not uncommon when we are faced with a health and safety problem to go straight in to look for a technical or physical restraint.  This obviously is necessary with technical and mechanical dangers.  

But the rule of thumb is to assess the risk, the likelihood and severity, and then to judge humans response to adversity. It is always better when the situation or protection meets with good response to conform.  The reader will recognise there are various methods to warn, limit and control risk that in themselves do not become a burden. Human beings have many skills, perhaps more than the risk management, in avoiding or defeating protection methods if it greatly inhibits them.  

So, a little psychology becomes necessary. Applying a law, or law enforcement should be a last resort. We are now coming to the stage of risk management. We’ve identified a risk, we’ve assessed the degree of risk, from knowledge of the risk and past experience and based on time, cost and effort have formed a plan of protection. With all in hand we examine the success rate, in other words the human factor.  Of course, as already said, a little psychology here helps.  It’s not always easy to protect people from themselves. 

Peter Clements
Peter Clements
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