Risky Business

In preparation for the spring outages, we will focus on how we measure risk, both personally and within our organization. We will draw from multiple industries and sources in an effort to inform and challenge the way we make decisions not just at work but during our time with our family and friends.  

Dave Fennell, CRSP of ExxonMobil said the brain’s risk assessment process works in 3 ways:  

  1. Exposure (hazard recognition),
  2. Perception (knowing what impact a risk might have)
  3. Decision (accepting, mitigating or rejection of the risk).

Dave Fennel and Mike Williamson, of Caterpillar Safety Services, identified 10 influencing factors in risk tolerance: 

  1. Overestimating capability/experience.
  2. Familiarity with the task – especially among senior workers.
  3. The seriousness of the outcome – something that can be diminished by the terminology used. Such as the oil and gas industry term “sweet gas,” which refers to the dangerous hydrogen sulfide and the phrase, “pinch point,” which is actually an amputation hazard.
  4. Voluntary actions and being in control – which also comes into play a great deal outside of work.
  5. Personal experience with a serious outcome. “As your organization gets safer and safer, you’re going to get fewer and fewer people who’ve had a personal experience with a serious outcome,” said Fennell. “The new people won’t understand it. They don’t remember it.” This is where senior workers can be helpful in communicating about serious incidents to newer workers.
  6. Cost of non-compliance, or, How is this going to affect me?
  7. Confidence in the equipment – Resulting in overconfidence.
  8. Confidence in protection and rescue. Impact resistant gloves and gas detectors that can only detect certain gases may also lead to an overly optimistic reliance on them.
  9. Potential profit and gain from and action. An example: longer working hours that yield bigger paychecks but can cause fatigue-related risks.
  10. Role models (or Supervision) accepting the risk. Because of personality or experience, leaders in a group or organization can have a powerful effect on those around them.

How to influence risk tolerance 

The move to action given by Fennell and Williamson involves giving workers a tool, a process, in effect, that forces them to ask: 

  • What could go wrong?
  • How bad could it be?
  • What could I do about this?

Wachs has numerous tools and systems that overlap that when used provide consistent evaluation of our ever-changing environments. One of the best proactive systems we have is our JHA. When used prior to the job, and as needed throughout the job, this system provides sustainability within our EHS program, which will carry over into our productivity, quality and ultimately our reputation within the industry.

Prevention of loss, whether it is personally or professionally, is a goal we all should strive to achieve. 


For more information on Risk Management, please see this edition of Wachs Weekly!