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The importance of safety in the workplace

When aware and where possible, an employer should prevent all accidents in the workplace. True or false?

Most people instinctively answer 'True' to this, but the correct answer to this is 'False'. The reasons for this are as follows.

Accident causation in the workplace is well known and documented because the vast majority of accidents have all happened before and investigations have revealed the immediate causes and the root causes. Therefore by using historical data and epidemiological analysis we are able to prevent accidents with foresight rather than hindsight (sadly it is very often the case that the latter is used to prevent accidents from recurring, which is obviously too late).

The process we use to foresee accidents is known as Risk Assessment. A risk is defined as the likelihood of an accident occurring and, if it should occur, how severe the injury would be (ie likelihood x severity). The amount of effort and money that should be used to reduce the risk is relative to the level of risk calculated. Consequently, as discussed previously, a low risk is acceptable despite the fact that the accident is foreseeable. However, it is essential that the employer ensures that the person conducting the risk assessment is competent to do so and is using a robust system

Some jobs - such as working at height or working with high voltages or forklift trucks - will always pose a high risk. True or false?

Again, people usually respond with 'True', but the correct answer to this is also 'False', as explained below.

It is illegal for an employer to knowingly allow an employee to work where there is a high risk. Remember (from the explanation above) that risk is likelihood x severity and, although it is recognised that the severity of the injury resulting from an accident incurred while performing one of the aforementioned jobs is potentially death, the employer must concentrate his or her efforts on reducing the likelihood to 'unforeseeable'.

For example, in an office environment there exists a life threatening hazard (electricity) but are you worried about being electrocuted? No. Why not? The severity of injury from electricity is death and therefore the likelihood is reduced to an acceptable level (low risk) by means of suitably designed equipment that is installed by a competent person and to a proven standard. In addition, operators are trained in its use and the equipment is properly maintained.

To conclude, where the severity of injury is serious we must try and reduce the likelihood of an accident. And where we cannot do that effectively (ie where we cannot reduce the risk to an acceptably low level) we have to incorporate other measures - such as personal protective equipment (PPE). Nonetheless, it is important to note that PPE should only be used as a last resort because it relies on the person to wear it correctly and, furthermore, it does not usually prevent the accident, it just prevents or reduces the injury.

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Pilz Automation Ltd
Pilz House, Little Colliers Field
Corby, Northants, NN18 8TJ
United Kingdom

Telephone: +44 1536 460766
E-Mail: sales@pilz.co.uk

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