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Risk management – more than preventing (almost) incidents

In many sectors (think industry, construction, and pharmaceuticals), ‘prevention’ appears to be the key word when it comes to human and environmental health and safety. With all our might, and many precautionary measures, we try to prevent dangerous situations and (almost) incidents. This makes perfect sense, especially from an ethical perspective. But equally as important is the focus on ‘control’. Because in a world where human behaviour still plays a major role, completely preventing dangerous situations is a utopia. So how do we manage this?

Do you only focus on preventing (almost) incidents? Then your risk management process is incomplete. We would be happy to tell you more about it.

Grip on risk management

Many companies operate in a complex environment, constantly balancing technology, people, and their surroundings in their daily operations. A seemingly minimal disruption in the process can lead to major risks in the aforementioned sectors. Because of the extensive damage that could occur, such companies often implement a safety management system. Risks are thereby inventoried and employees report (almost) incidents to facilitate analysis (and action). But there is more!

Risk management does not solely belong to the safety manager

Safety managers have an important role in eliminating harm. They try to create the safest and healthiest working environment possible. A good example of this is personal protective equipment, protection for hearing and falling for example. However, personal safety alone is not enough. This is evidenced by the number of accidents that occur regularly in the construction industry, for example.

Accidents like these often lead to additional casualties because people do not realise the seriousness of the situation (the risk) and therefore start acting intuitively. Learn more about how to get employees to understand safety properly.

It starts at the source

Let’s take a few steps back, though. An (almost) incident doesn’t just happen. And to avoid this (near) incident in the future, you need insights. Kanse developed a model that gives you insight into how errors can be fixed. Thanks to these insights, you can react more adequately and limit future damage in the event of a similar incident. According to Kanse, the so-called recovery process, or rather ‘error handling process’, starts with a deviation being noticed (detection), followed by phases aimed at (causal) analysis and measures (see figure 1).

Risk management

Consider the example where a maintenance engineer notices (detection) that his colleague is not properly securing a certain seal (deviation), causing harmful fumes to escape (impact). The technician immediately seals the emerged opening and secures the seal correctly (measures). He then checks whether the air quality has been affected (analysis), after which he decides to temporarily evacuate the premise (measures). As employees were only briefly exposed to the harmful substances, the impact on people and the environment is fortunately minimal (impact).

From prevention to control

When it comes to risk management, a combined approach of a retrospective and prospective analysis is essential. First of all, you need to identify risks prospectively, describe scenarios and take measures. If unexpected (almost) incidents do occur, they call for a cause-and-effect analysis with the aim of preventing similar events in the future. In both cases, as far as measures are concerned, we should keep in mind two possible strategies: preventive measures and damage control measures. In other words: measures that reduce the probability of the (almost) incident and measures that reduce the severity of the impact. The total of these measures ultimately reduces the size of the overall risk.

Absolute safety or acceptable risk?

Within the themes of safety, health, and the environment, it is all about optimising prevention. A danger lurks here, however. Partly because mistakes, and therefore (almost) accidents, cannot always be completely prevented. But also because a one-sided prevention strategy is not necessarily desirable. Indeed, striving for complete safety can also have adverse consequences. It goes without saying that a multitude of measures creates costs and can sometimes actually lead to more uncertainty and unease. Moreover, it can hinder innovation. Companies and employees miss out on opportunities for innovation by focusing too one-sidedly on what can go wrong. And that while innovativeness (in the aforementioned sectors) is so valuable. So, we are constantly faced with the challenge of finding an optimal balance between absolute safety and acceptable risks. Where in the latter case, the resilience of individuals and organisations is essential to minimise damage.

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