Optimizing Safety Engineering, Systems, Human Factors: Part 1
- Vladimir Ivensky (Amec Foster Wheeler)
- Document ID
- American Society of Safety Engineers
- Professional Safety
- Publication Date
- January 2017
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 36 - 45
- 2017. American Society of Safety Engineers
- 0 in the last 30 days
- 86 since 2007
- Show more detail
- Part 1 of this article reviews misbalances that can occur among the major elements of a comprehensive safety program (engineering controls, management systems, human factors), potentially affecting those programs’ effectiveness in preventing serious incidents.
- It specifically reviews debates on incident causation and behavior-based safety programs, and on the advantages and limitations of those programs.
The ultimate purpose of any occupational safety program is to reduce or eliminate incidents that result in harm to people or the environment. A more detailed definition of the goal (completely eliminate injuries, prevent serious injuries, provide workplace free from recognized hazards) and ways to achieve that goal are the subjects of debates that help to develop the safety profession, its tools and strategies. The trends in occupational injury rates indicate a growing gap between declining minor to medium severity incident rates and serious injury and fatality rates that have not declined at the same pace (Mangan, 2015; Manuele, 2003). That finding is sparking renewed interest in searching for optimally balanced safety programs that are effective in preventing serious incidents.
Content of an Occupational Safety Program
The topics debated within the safety profession include, among others:
- What is the predominant cause of safety incidents (if it exists)—unsafe acts, unsafe conditions (uncontrolled workplace hazards), operations and management systems deficiencies, or some other causes or their combinations?
- Do minor and serious incidents have similar causes and is it possible to prevent serious incidents by concentrating on preventing the more frequent minor ones?
- If the main causes of incidents are known, can preventive strategies be focused accordingly and modified to be more effective?
Errors in answering these questions would result in misplaced priorities, resources and ineffective safety programs. Modern occupational safety programs integrate many elements that simplistically can be classified into three major categories:
- engineering and technical standards and rules;
- management and operation systems; and
- human factors (Figure 1). Examples for each category are provided briefly for illustration only.
Engineering & Technical
ASSE’s name, which includes the word engineers, implies that the engineering and technical component is at the core of the OSH profession. U.S. federal OSH regulations are mostly technical in nature, providing specifications for tasks or items such as scaffolds, guardrails, trench cave-in protection, de-energizing, confined space entry or personal fall arrest devices. For example, OSHA’s construction industry standard 29 CFR 1926.652 requires “safe access and egress to all excavations, including ladders, steps, ramps or other safe means of exit for employees working in trench excavations 4 ft or deeper. These devices must be located within 25 ft of all workers.” Violating any of those (and many similar) specifications constitutes an OSHA violation. It is illegal to allow employees to work in an environment that does not comply with OSHA regulations.
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