We are fortunate that Risk Analysts have developed a logical framework of quantitative and semi-quantitative analysis techniques that allow us to assess and optimally mediate risk. And we all know that this is part of the Safety Lifecycle, a series of engineering steps/procedures that represent best safety practices. These are documented in IEC 61511 for the process industries. We also know that our methods are fallible and accidents may occur. In many ways this is what the measure of “tolerable risk” is all about. But I think it wise to consider the personal side of risk whenever making a decision about safety.
In the typical high consequence / low frequency accident scenario, it is well known that a person who has experienced an accident will estimate risk higher than someone who has not experienced an accident. This seems to me to a common trait of human nature. So one thing that might really help safety is to imagine that we know the person in danger when making safety decisions. I recall a slide from the EC50 ISA course taught by Paul Gruhn. It explained how safety was achieved in one situation - the plant manager’s family lived on-site! How would decisions be impacted if those in danger were your family?
I read the book “Drowning in Oil, BP and the Reckless Pursuit of Profit,” by Loren C. Steffy. Chapter 1 made me feel like I was on the Deepwater Horizon during its infamous destruction in 2010. While the book had newspaper style sensationalism that I find disturbing and counter to rational risk management, I still recommend it to safety professionals because such material helps us to remember the personal impact of our work.
Some years back a good friend was killed in an industrial accident. After all the information about the accident was presented I could not help but feel that the application of safety standards would have prevented this incident. So I remember this incident when doing my work.
I recommend that everyone, especially those who have never experienced an incident, to stop and imagine the personal impact of each decision. Perhaps we will more careful about skipping that proof test, substituting a cheap instrument for the 61508 certified instrument specified during design, or deleting important safety lifecycle steps from our processes.
There is value in keeping it personal.