What Is Risk Management? Causal Factors and Risk Assessment are Keys to Unlocking Job Hazard Insights

Rather than reacting to existing events, implement risk management software to anticipate potential hazards and implement risk management and assessment strategies.

What can be done today to prevent worker injuries and deaths tomorrow? The answer lies in the notion of predictive analytics discovered through the use of risk management software that use historical data to identify the workplace danger waiting to strike.

Rather than reacting or responding to what’s already happened, EHS leaders should be looking to anticipate and forecast potential hazards and implement necessary change and prevention strategies before an employee is harmed.

Predicting negative events or incidents that might happen in a workplace is a matter of identifying “causal factors” through data analysis, but these clues are often not apparent and likely to be hidden in variables not captured in incident reports.

A causal factor can be defined as any major unplanned or unintended contributor to an incident that if eliminated would prevent or reduce the severity or frequency of the incident. Identifying causal factors requires digging deeper into information sources that might include equipment operation and process data, vehicle telemetry, weather, geospatial, socio-demographic, human resources (payroll, performance data) and training, industry and other data.

Through predictive modeling techniques and risk management software, it’s possible to pinpoint the driving factors behind workplace incidents and develop prevention strategies. One of the greatest obstacles in analyzing and potentially exposing risks is finding and collecting data, which is usually scattered across various business systems and often difficult to access. Not all data is written in common syntax, so it must be interpreted and standardized, and data quality is always an issue.

Accurate data, and by extension, data analysis, will become increasingly more important for EHS. In its report, 4 Trends in Occupational Safety and Health to Expect in 2021, Columbia Southern University noted that: “It will be crucial for all businesses to use their safety data to perform predictive safety modeling. This modeling will aim to anticipate potential safety hazards and establish which conditions increase the occurrence of incidents.”

It goes on to say: “To remain competitive, companies will employ machine-learning-dependent safety software and attempt to stop accidents in their tracks before they occur.” Noted was the fact that “predictive analytics are only as reliable as the data they are based on.” 

Risk Assessment

Risk assessment seeks to identify and evaluate hazards found in a work environment before incidents happen, determine the level of danger that exists in those hazards and assess the likelihood of harm occurring. It is also the guiding principle behind job safety analysis (JSA) and job hazard analysis (JHA). Risk hazard needs to be evaluated with criteria that help to build a credible understanding of what is and is not acceptable. Most regulatory bodies require some form of risk assessment of hazards, and all follow a similar template that includes:

  • Identifying risks to the worker associated with work activity
  • Identifying hazards found in the work environment that pose a threat of loss
  • Providing details of identified risks or hazards and context to build understanding
  • Utilizing a measurement system to evaluate risk understanding and determining precautions
  • Building controls that protect people and the work environment   

Building a Risk Matrix

A risk matrix is a great assessment tool for evaluating and estimating risk level. It helps to judge whether the hazard and possible risk are acceptable, scores it and then plots findings on a matrix chart to ultimately determine the level of control required to reduce the risks and mitigate incidents. If the activity rating rises above acceptable levels, then controls are warranted to lower scores. 

For every hazard identified during an inspection and for each associated activity, it’s important to ask the question “what if?”  What could be the worst-case outcome regarding a hazard or concerning activity?  Is it a fatality, significant injury, permanent disability or health effect?  Is it a minor injury, an environmental concern or something that could cause damage? A risk matrix is a tool to judge the likelihood and severity of harm, based on a criterion that includes:

  • Severity – The degree or amount of expected loss
  • Likelihood – How likely that the loss will occur
  • Risk Rating – The probability and severity of the risk before and after control actions are taken

Below is a risk matrix example:

A five-point (5×5) matrix, such as the those presented below, estimate the likelihood (probability) and severity (consequence) within the five descriptive levels.

Likelihood Scale

Rating ScoreQualitative ElementDefinition
0ImpossibleNo injury or illness, damage or other loss is possible.
1ImprobableLoss, injury or illness could only occur under freak conditions. The situation is well managed, and all reasonable precautions have been taken.
2UnlikelyThis situation is generally well managed. However occasional lapses could occur. This also applies to situations where people are well trained and required to behave safely to protect themselves.
3LikelyInsufficient or substandard controls in place. The loss is unlikely during normal operation however, it may occur in emergencies or non-routine conditions.
4Very LikelySerious failures in management controls exist. The effects of human behavior or other factors could cause an accident but are usually supported by this additional factor (e.g., ladder not appropriately secured, process upset, oil spilled on the floor, poorly trained personnel).
5Almost CertainAbsence of management controls. If conditions remain unchanged, there is nearly 100 percent certainty that an accident will happen (e.g., broken rung on a ladder, live exposed electrical conductor).

Severity Scale

Rating ScoreQualitative ElementDefinition
0NoneNo injury or illness, damage, sickness or other loss is possible.
1MinorMinor injury, illness or loss is possible (e.g., light cuts, scratches, insignificant damage to property).
2LowSignificant injuries or illnesses are possible (e.g., sprains, bruises, lacerations and events needing medical care). Damage to property or process.
3MediumTemporary disability is possible (e.g., fractures, finger amputation). Lost workdays due to injury or illness; substantial damage or loss of property or process.
4HighPermanent disability is possible (e.g., significant loss of movement, loss of limb, sight or hearing)
5MajorCausing death to one or more people. Loss or damage is such that it could cause serious business disruption (e.g., major fire, explosion or structural damage).

Hierarchy of Controls

Coupled with the risk assessment and risk matrix described above, Intelex Vice President of Health and Safety Scott Gaddis recommends the application of a widely accepted approach called a hierarchy of controls. He describes it as a simple-to-understand process that’s useful in gauging the control appetite of an organization. It should serve as an overarching methodology for how to deliver the right level of program control for job safety and job hazard management. 

An example from Gaddis’s report, Walking-Working Surfaces and Pedestrian Safety, offers a methodology for creating a control hierarchy – in this case for walking-working surfaces risks – and highlights the most effective controls, emphasizes engineering solutions, reveals administrative controls and the necessary reliance on personal protective equipment. (See the illustration, below.)

Learn more tips and best practices for job safety and hazard analysis by downloading the Intelex Insight Report: The More You Know (Part 1): The Essentials of Job Safety Analysis.

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