EHS Management

When Addressing Risk Reduction, Where Does OSHA Fit In?

By Rick Fineman, CSP, ARM

Vice President, Risk Management Services at ICW Group Insurance Companies

Risk is quantifiable. To do so, most risk models use scales for frequency, likelihood, and severity. When analyzing the risk of employee injury, this may be accessed based on the following factors:

Risk management reduction

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1. Frequency of the risk activity

2. Likelihood of an injury each time that risk activity occurs

3. Severity of the injury

Crossing the Street

Let’s use the risk of being struck by a car while crossing the street as an example.  The frequency is how many times you cross the street—each crossing provides an opportunity for a car to strike you. The likelihood is how probable it is that you will be struck each time you cross the street. The severity is how badly you will be injured if you are struck.

You can reduce risk by affecting any of the three areas. For example, by not crossing the street as often, in turn you are driving down frequency. Installing a crosswalk will help reduce the likelihood you will be struck when crossing the street. Furthermore, installing traffic circles or speed bumps to reduce the speed of cars will, ideally, reduce the severity of the injury if you are struck.

OSHA’s Role

Implementing OSHA-required controls tends to reduce the likelihood of injury when completing a task. OSHA does not generally regulate whether the task is complete. OSHA does not say whether or not you can work on a piece of machinery, enter a confined space, or work at elevation. Rather, OSHA requires that you follow procedures (like lockout) to reduce the risk of injury when working on machinery or confined space entry procedures to reduce the likelihood you will be injured when entering a confined space.  While OSHA requirements can affect frequency and severity, they are focused on likelihood.

The Most Effective Method of Reducing Risk

Addressing the frequency of risk activity is often the most effective method of reducing risk. Ensuring you do not have to cross the street is by far the most effective method of ensuring no one gets struck by a car while crossing the street. Stopping the machine from jamming, so there is no need to reach into the machine to unjam it is an excellent way to reduce risk even if the likelihood and severity stay the same. Frequency reduction can also result in productivity and efficiency gains, which help with buy-in.

To be truly effective at reducing risk, safety professionals should focus on all three components—reducing the frequency of risk activities, driving down the likelihood of injury each time a risk activity takes place, and implementing amelioration approaches to control the severity of injuries.

Rick FinemanJoin Rick Fineman for a FREE webinar, Combating Normalization of Acceptable Risk or Tolerance, next Wednesday, June 21, at 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Eastern/11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Pacific.

Mr. Fineman is the Vice President of Risk Management Services for the Insurance Company of the West, a mono-line workers’ compensation carrier based in San Diego, California and has over 30 years’ experience as a consultant, risk manager, and executive manager for large insurance carriers. He has a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from University of Washington, a Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety and Health from Central Washington University, a Masters of Public Heath in Toxicology, and is a Certified Safety Professional who holds ARM, ALCM, and CHCM designations.

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