To prevent your workers from being injured or killed, you need to identify risks, demonstrate their potential impact on your workforce and your organization, and implement proper controls.
When Georgi Popov, Ph.D., CSP, ARM, SMS, QEP, looks back to his first risk assessment, he thinks of all the lessons experience has since taught him about properly assessing risks and convincing upper management to invest in controls. Here are four lessons he shares on how to improve risk management at your organization.
1. Know How to Move Things Up the Chain
Early in his career while working as a chemical officer, Popov was taught to think “two levels up” as a way to move issues up the chain to decision-makers. He encourages safety professionals to use similar thinking when conducting risk assessments.
Assessing risks is just the start. You also have to communicate those risks to decision-makers so they understand the potential impact on the organization. To have those conversations, you have to understand your organizational structure and know who makes decisions about safety and health investments.
When you know who makes decisions and how, you can develop relationships that will earn you a seat at meetings where safety and health decisions are made.
2. Speak the Language of Business
To effectively move issues up the chain, you have to communicate in a way that your leadership will understand.
“Most OSH professionals have handed upper management a list of hazards or ‘compliance issues’ that were found in an audit,” he says. “It’s likely upper management handed the list back and said, ‘so what does this mean?’”
To do that, you have to demonstrate the impact on business outcomes.
“I quickly realized that to convince to CEO, I needed to learn a new language,” Popov explains. “OSH professionals should be speaking in a language that upper management commonly uses.”
Instead of focusing on regulatory compliance, you have to think beyond the financial cost of an OSHA fine. Popov urges OSH professionals to include personnel risk, operational risk and financial risk in any risk assessment to help management grasp the potential costs of risks. He also says any presentation to leadership should include a cost-benefit analysis to demonstrate the overall impact on the organization.
3. Expand Your Risk-Based Education
The best way to improve and advance risk management within your organization is to become familiar with best practices for risk assessment and management.
“I wish I had an effective risk assessment and management education, I had to learn it the hard way.” he says, alluding to his first risk assessment. “Effective risk assessment was not in the safety textbooks back then. Most were compliance-based, and compliance didn’t work for me.”
Over time, many resources have emerged to help safety professionals learn more about risk and how to address it in their workplaces. This includes resources such as ANSI/ASSP/ISO 31000-2018, Risk Management - Guidelines and the ASSP TR-31010-2020 Technical Report: Risk Management - Techniques for Safety Practitioners.
He also encourages safety professionals to look at continuing education courses and certificate programs to expand their risk-based knowledge.
“The best risk assessment tool is the one that you have developed based on what works for your organization,” he says. “It requires self-discipline, continuous education and discipline.”
4. Foster Good Communication With Workers
Workplace risks change constantly. Anticipating those changes can help you anticipate and address those risks before they result in an incident. Talking regularly with workers about the conditions they face each day is a great place to start.
It’s important to realize that communicating with workers is different than communicating with the C-suite and requires a different approach.
“Communicating with workers requires a whole different skill set,” Popov says. “You need to use a different type of vocabulary to achieve understanding with workers than you do with upper management.” This can mean avoiding risk-based language, acronyms and technical terms at the start, and teaching workers to use simple risk assessment tools.
“Workers know their tasks and operations very well,” he says. “You can consult with them, but make sure you use the appropriate terminology.”
Listen to The Case for Safety Podcast episode featuring Georgi Popov to learn more about how you can improve risk management at your organization.
ASSP TR-31010-2020 Technical Report: Risk Management - Techniques for Safety Practitioners - Technical Report
ANSI/ASSP/ISO 31000-2018, Risk Management - Guidelines - Standard
Conducting a Risk Assessment – Article
Data Gathering: Setting the Foundation for Successful Risk Assessment – Article
Setting the Scope and Limits of a Risk Assessment – Article
Communicating and Managing Risk: The Key Result of Risk Assessment – Article