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Prevention Through Design With Limited Resources: It’s a Mindset

Feb 02, 2022

Risk management is at the heart of the work of safety professionals. One method forSafety professional performing an assessment doing this is by implementing prevention through design concepts to “design out” risks and hazards before they have the potential to cause injuries, illnesses and fatalities. This can be challenging, particularly for small businesses with limited staff and resources.

Over a long career in occupational safety and health, Michael Taubitz, senior adviser at FDR Safety, has worked to help organizations implement prevention through design concepts at their facilities. He has five tips for proactively using design to manage risks, no matter where you work.

1. Think About Task-Based Risks

The first step of design-based hazard mitigation is conducting task-based risk assessments. These provide valuable insight into the hazards associated with different tasks, processes and procedures.

A risk assessment requires you to identify the hazards associated with different tasks, the causes of those hazards, the likelihood of occurrence and the potential consequences. Observe the work being done on your job site and start conversations with front-line workers and managers. Connect with a diverse group of team members to better understand the current beliefs and practices within your safety management system.

2. Communicate with Engineers

Once you know the risks and hazards associated with different tasks, Taubitz encourages you to work with engineers and others on preventing risks before they have the potential to become incidents. One way to do this is through better communication with engineers about concept and design-phase measures that will make machinery, processes, procedures and tasks safer.

“Safety professionals need to proactively get out with their engineering departments,” Taubitz says. “We have to learn to talk their language.”

By better understanding the work that engineers do and having an open dialogue with them, you can collaborate to find the best solutions for designing out hazards. Taubitz warns that if you don’t act quickly, it could make your job more difficult, particularly if you’re dealing with machinery.

“If you don’t get into concept and design and you wait until the machines come in, you’re already into retrofit,” he explains. “We have to work proactively, getting with engineers, trying to sell the concept and introducing them to the standards that exist.”

3. Remember the Hierarchy of Controls

After your task-based risk assessments and conversations with engineers, you can reference the hierarchy of controls to determine options for addressing different hazards. These can range from elimination or substitution of the hazard to engineering controls, administrative controls and PPE.

For instance, if you find that it’s safer and feasible to reduce worker interaction in certain processes and procedures, those could be redesigned to institute automated material handling.

Engineering controls could include measures such as guards on machinery or alternative methods for controlling hazardous energy. Working further down the hierarchy, possible administrative steps include implementing signs, labels and sirens.

4. Consider Feasibility

While the hierarchy of controls provides guidance, you have to do what makes the most sense for your organization and its work environments. The prevention through design concepts you implement at your organization will depend on what is feasible based on your resources and budget, among other factors.  

Taubitz emphasizes that it’s important to focus on achieving an acceptable level of risk and implementing feasible controls based on your situation. While elimination and substitution are more effective at addressing risks, they may not always be possible.

5. Understand That There’s No Such Thing as Zero Risk

One of the most important things to remember with prevention through design, and risk management in general, is that there is no such thing as zero risk. The goal is preventing injuries and fatalities by bringing risk to an acceptable level.

There are many myths about risk management, Taubitz says, and one of the keys to preventing injuries and illnesses is debunking them. One such myth is that zero injury goals equate to zero risk. The reality is that risk only occurs when employees are exposed to hazards.  Another myth is that compliance and safety are the same thing. Taubitz notes that compliance ignores exposures that can lead to serious injuries and fatalities.

Along with the hierarchy of controls, OSHA regulations explain what is required for compliance in different working environments. Industry consensus standards such as ANSI/ASSP Z590.3 offer additional guidance for achieving acceptable risk.

“Both ANSI/ASSP Z244.1 and ANSI B11 give you definitions for achieving acceptable risk, because there’s no such thing as zero risk,” Taubitz says.

Listen to the Case for Safety Podcast featuring Michael Taubitz to learn more about implementing prevention through design concepts at your organization.

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