Identifying Risk with a simple equation

As a safety officer you often feel like an over anxious parent spending all your time trying to identify all possible risks your workers might be exposed to and implementing changes to protect them from those risks. It sometimes feels like there no end to the mischief that they might be able to do, especially in a plant with machines running, forklifts driving, trucks offloading, etc… So how do we go about identifying and prioritizing the risks?

Here’s a simple equation that can help: Risk = Severity x Likelihood

Create a chart with severity on one axis and likelihood on the other. Whenever both are high you’ve identified a risk that needs to be addressed immediately. Your chart should look something like this:

Anything in the bottom left quadrant is a low priority risk. Anything in the top right quadrant is a high priority risk that needs to be addressed immediately. multiply the numbers and high numbers show a high priority.

Once you have identified your high risk items you can create another chart with risk on one axis and “number of exposures” on the other. This new chart would incorporate the number of people who might potentially be injured if this risk is not addressed. On the vertical axis, plug in the number you got from chart 1 above. On the horizontal axis, adapt the numbers to reflect the number of workers you have at your particular location, plant, etc… If your location had 50 people, for example, the chart will look something like this:


Obviously a high risk that one person might be exposed to once a month isn’t going to be as high a priority as one that is numerically equal in the first chart but which has the potential of affecting 20 people daily.

Running around trying to identify and solve all safety related issues all at the same time is a recipe for frustration and isn’t going to be very effective. Identifying which risks are the ones that need to be addressed first will help you know how to allot funds, time and personnel and make you much more effective in creating a safe environment.

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