In Brief

  • Executive commitment to safety is critical. It is equally critical that this commitment is correctly targeted and directed, and that the OSH risks are properly recognized, evaluated, prioritized and controlled.

  • This article reviews leadership commitment to nonoptimal OSH systems as a business risk.

  • It also discusses OSH system deficiencies such as misbalance between elements of a safety program, nonoptimal design of OSH organization, assumption that low incident rates are directly correlated to reduced fatality risks, impractical expectations of OSH system performance, confusion between intentional safety violation and error, assumption that no errors will be made if employees are committed to safety, confusion between occupational and system safety, lack of clarity on duty of safety care at multiemployer projects, and failure to prioritize risks.

Conducting an OSH risk review is a common safety management practice, allowing to systematically recognize, evaluate, prioritize and control OSH risks for a particular industry, organization or project. OSH system deficiencies such as lack of leader commitment to safety, lack of management and employee participation in safety programs, nonexistent or not followed management of change procedures, inadequate hazard analysis and design for safety, flawed communication and reporting systems, and inadequate learning from prior events constitute significant OSH risks (Leveson, 2011). Engineering, management and PPE controls are applied to avoid or mitigate the risks to acceptable levels.

The aforementioned OSH risks are known and discussed in the OSH profession. This article reviews several less frequently discussed risks related to nonoptimal OSH models:

  • Misbalanced OSH program. One program element (e.g., engineering controls, administrative controls or human factors) enjoys a priority over the others.

  • Presumption that low occupational injury rates are directly correlated to a reduced risk of a serious injury or fatality.

  • Impractical expectations for occupational injury rates (including from contractors) for the existing level of hazards and OSH controls.

  • Confusion between occupational safety and system safety.

  • Confusion between an intentional safety violation and an error.

  • Presumption that employee commitment to safety would eliminate or significantly reduce errors.

  • Lack of clarity on duty of safety care to other parties at multiemployer projects.

  • Poor integration of OSH with operations and other functions, or OSH program does not fit the company's business model.

  • Company leadership is committed to a nonoptimal OSH program and actively promotes it.

This noncomprehensive list of conceptual deficiencies provides an additional perspective on improving the effectiveness of OSH programs.

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