Occupational risk management has become more and more the standard to which leading companies aspire. Since before OSHA was created, most of the safety profession focused on compliance and incident analysis. Insurance companies for years have been touting incident and loss analysis as the basis for predicting the future trends in loss. In addition, many risk managers have been focusing on transfer of risk, rather than risk reduction. While incident trend analysis is a valuable exercise, as leading companies reduce the number of losses, the value in using this data as a predictive index diminishes. In fact, we have seen seminar after seminar and publication after publication espouse the value of looking at risk for your predictive data.
The plethora of recent risk publications on the national and international levels further supports the paradigm shift from the focus on managing to incidence rates to one where risk reduction becomes the leading data points and targets. While risk assessment methodologies have been around for years (MIL-STD-882D-1993/2000), more recently publications from ISO (OHSAS 18001/2-1999/2007; 31000-2009) and ANSI (B11-TR3-2000; Z10-2005/2012; Z590.3-2011) have been proliferating (just to name a few). Safety Management Systems, Like OHSAS 18001 and ANSI Z10 have made risk assessment one of the fundamentals of planning (per the Deming "Plan-Do-Check-Act" cycle), so the data is available for risk management (Do, Check, Act).
There are several keys to successful risk assessment, therefore, to also having the right data available for risk management. However, some of these keys have not been standardized, leaving confusion and variability for safety professionals to figure out. In its simplest terms, there are two risk factors, severity (consequence) and probability (likelihood). A matrix is used to determine the risk based on the product of these two factors. Once of the challenges we face is that there is no one universal matrix. B11 uses a 4×4 matrix, Z10 a 4×5, and DoD a 5×4. Another key is the risk factor definitions. While terms like "likely" or "occasional" are used to reference the potential frequency of an event or exposure, none of the referenced documents further define these terms. Similarly, severity terms like "catastrophic" or "minor" provide no clear direction how to classify events or exposures.