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Data Gathering: Setting the Foundation for Successful Risk Assessment

Aug 27, 2018

With a task as potentially daunting as assessing and managing risk, those involved may ask themselves, “Where do I begin?” Risk assessment, like many processes, begins with gathering data. Data gathering allows safety professionals and others to develop an understanding of what hazards and risks exist within a facility and how they affect employee safety.

Moving occupational safety and health forward effectively and efficiently requires comprehensive data on the types of injuries and illnesses that have occurred, as well has on the hazards that currently exist. While several factors should be examined and considered throughout the process, data gathering comes down to four key components – analyzing previous injuries and illnesses, examining the work being done, how it is being done, and the hazards and risks associated with it.

Data Analysis

To analyze previous injuries and illnesses, safety professionals can reference resources such as loss runs, which provide a historical informational on insurance claims, as well as injury and illness databases, OSHA logs, property damage reports and chemical releases. Any documentation available on close calls, workplace audits and inspections and manufacturer instructions can also be useful resources in developing insights into a site’s safety performance.

For those who are just starting out and don’t have workplace-specific data, they can reference industry data on the types of hazards and risks present in similar facilities and with the use of similar equipment, and any injuries and fatalities that have occurred as a result.

Work Analysis

Moving on to the next phase of data gathering, one of the best ways to learn about the work that’s being performed, and the associated risks is by walking the floor, making visual observations and speaking with workers about the hazards they face in performing their duties. This type of information gathering can provide valuable insights into common and less obvious hazards that are present in the workplace, and how they are being addressed.

For example, an auto parts manufacturer may want to determine its welders’ level of exposure to hexavalent chromium (Cr VI). Both visual observations and sampling results at welding stations can provide insights into the level of welding fumes captured by existing controls. Based on these data, the manufacturer can determine whether additional measures are needed to protect workers, and what those might be.

When interviewing workers, it’s important to gather insights not only on the hazards present in their day-to-day responsibilities, but also in nonroutine tasks they perform as well. These types of tasks, although not performed as frequently, may present more severe hazards with a higher probability of injury. Therefore, any and all hazards associated with nonroutine tasks should be identified during the data-gathering process.

In conducting interviews, use the questions below as a guideline for data gathering on the types of hazards present and the potential impact on both worker health and overall production:

1.     How often are workers performing each of their tasks or processes?

2.     How long are they exposed to hazards?

3.     Is the exposure continuous or intermittent? 

4.     How many people are exposed to the same hazard?

5.     What occupational health and environmental exposures do they face?

6.     What is the potential production loss?

Go Beyond the Hazard

An important step to keep in mind during data gathering is to not just identify the existence of hazards, but also the probability of those hazards injuring a worker, and how severe an injury could be. By determining the probability of a hazard occurring, decision-makers can analyze and prioritize the issues that have been identified. 

“If you stop at the hazard, you haven’t identified the likelihood of it happening,” says Georgi Popov, Ph.D., QEP, SMS, ARM, CMC, professor in the safety sciences program at the University of Central Missouri and member of ASSP’s Risk Assessment Committee. “You have to go one step further and determine the likelihood of that hazard injuring a worker or leading to potential work-related illness.” 

OSH professionals can use tools such as a risk assessment matrix to categorize the risks based on the likelihood of occurrence and the severity of the consequences. Working from this point and utilizing tools such as the hierarchy of controls, they can determine which solutions will be most suitable for prevention or mitigation of the risks.. 

Prevention Through Design 

To take an even more proactive approach to risk management, safety professionals can begin the data-gathering process before facilities or equipment are constructed. By gathering data on the types of equipment that will be used at a facility, as well as on the physical makeup of the facility itself, safety professionals can work with engineers and process managers to utilize prevention through design techniques to anticipate the risks and design out hazards and risks before they become a reality. In this way, risk is a part of the process from the very beginning and is incorporated into any decision-making.  

“Anticipate and look at potential risks when you’re designing your operation, instead of having to modify it later,” says Popov. “Anticipate what hazards might be and design or redesign projects based on those hazards.”     

Taking this first step to gather data on historical and current hazards and risks sets the foundation for the entire risk assessment and risk management process. Once the necessary data have been gathered, safety professionals can move on to step two – setting the scope and limits of the assessment.

This is the first in a series of articles that will guide you through the risk assessment process as explained in Addendum A of ANSI/ASSP Z590.3-2011 (R2016), Prevention Through Design Guidelines for Addressing Occupational Hazards and Risks in Design and Redesign Processes. 

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