Risk management is a complex practice that can seem daunting, especially with its array of analysis methods and matrixes. But knowing it’s how the occupational safety and health profession is progressing and with the right guidance, you can learn to incorporate risk management across your practice. As occupational safety becomes more risk-based than hazard-based, and as professionals are required to develop new technical and communication skills, your continuing education in this area is more essential than ever.
Christine Jay, M.S., CSP, transformation and operational excellence lead for Club Car Parts and Services, is one peer educator who has stepped in to address this need. She says the major challenge safety professionals just starting to address risk management face is that they often aren’t empowered to influence long-term planning in their workplace. It can feel like they’re heading for a dead end.
“Sometimes there are leadership or strategic changes at a company during a time when you’re trying to implement a risk management process,” she says. “This can lead to frustration, because when there’s not sustainability or good change management, you get asked to do and explain things again and again.”
Jay says this challenge eases as safety professionals improve their ability to influence the bigger picture. No matter where you are in your journey, she says there are five essentials – in addition to tools such as a bow-tie analysis or risk matrix – that will help you identify risks, protect workers and make the most of those “dead end” days.
1. Case Studies
Case studies aren’t necessarily long, formal documents. You might hear case studies in casual hallway conversations with people in your network, in a class or webinar or even a short video on social media. These examples highlight what’s possible, explain the problems others have encountered and solved along the way, and inspire you to try new things.
“Case studies are great for sparking conversations with your team,” Jay says. “Your brain will start going a mile a minute thinking, ‘OK, well, I don’t really like that aspect of what they did, but based on our operations we could do X, Y and Z.’”
2. SMART Goals
Even the most advanced risk management systems won’t make a difference without the buy-in of the C-suite. As with most things, their support will likely depend on their ability to understand what you’re doing, how you plan to get there and what your efforts will achieve.
Setting and communicating your specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based – or SMART – goals can help you manage the expectations of your company’s executives, Jay says, and hold yourself accountable for your progress. This step should come after you and your team have identified and analyzed the risks you want to address, and before you start formulating solutions. Make your goal statement easy to understand, and avoid safety jargon or confusing acronyms.
“SMART goals help leaders understand what you’re planning to achieve with your risk management process and really gives it visibility, whether you’re on a job site, in a manufacturing operation or product design process,” Jay continues. “It’s much more effective than a safety professional walking into a leader’s office and telling them everything that’s wrong.”
3. Financial and Non-Financial Benefits Analyses
Once you can clearly explain your goals to your organization’s senior leadership, Jay says it’s time to show them the money.
“The number one way to get them interested is to clarify what’s in it for them. We, as safety professionals, need to be able to put risk in terms they understand, which is usually dollars or the potential impact on the company’s reputation.”
Conducting financial and non-financial benefits analyses as part of your risk mitigation plan makes this type of communication possible. Non-financial or “soft” benefits are difficult to quantify, but they are directly tied to more measurable business objectives. They include elements such as the company’s ethical and legal standing, sustainability and employee turnover rate.
Financial benefits are key to justifying your risk management approach because they speak directly to your organization’s bottom line. When you conduct a financial benefits analysis, you are expressing a monetary return on investment (ROI) relative to your project’s direct costs.
4. A Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) Process
Using the risk management tool known as PDCA – or the plan, do, check, act process – should be a critical part of your risk management strategy, according to Jay. This continual improvement cycle, originally developed by Walter Shewhart and championed by W. Edwards Deming, is a version of the scientific method that allows safety professionals to refine their procedures and communicate along the way. It’s also a critical component of contemporary management systems, which makes it especially useful for those who are designing new procedures, reevaluating existing ones or exploring new solutions to problems they face.
“Even if we’re just talking about manufacturing operations,” Jay says, “there are so many changes that occur, and nonroutine tasks create noise that makes risk management systems harder to implement. Through better planning and a PDCA process, you can create a more effective, cross-functional risk management team.”
Technical standards such as ISO 31000, ISO 45001, and ANSI/ASSP Z690, Z10 and Z590.3 provide guidelines for risk management practices and procedures that you can use to improve workplace safety in your organization.
“Standards help provide a foundation for any risk management or safety program, especially for organizations without mature safety processes,” Jay says. “They also help with long-range planning, measurement and ensuring that your efforts are sustainable.”
ISO 31000, Risk Management – Principles and Guidelines, is a popular choice, especially following a 2018 revision that made it easier to understand. The standard establishes a core purpose for risk management that speaks to company stakeholders: The creation and protection of value. To achieve that goal, ISO 31000 offers eight principles, which include being responsive to change, using the best available information and considering human and cultural factors.
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