Current State of Safety
Safety and risk reduction are top of mind for the majority of today’s product engineers and environmental, health and safety professionals. Yet, accidents and injuries continue to occur – many of them completely preventable – causing damage not only to the individual and their family but also to the company’s safety culture, brand integrity and bottom line.
Consider these accident, injury and liability facts and statistics:
- Poor product warnings are as bad as product defects: As far back as 1987, the Harvard Business Review reported that U.S. courts often rule that the absence of proper warnings can be as dangerous as defects in design or manufacture.
- Product liability lawsuits are costly: According to the Insurance Information Institute, the average product liability injury award in 2015 was $4,868,468. The average defense cost that year was $1,037,580.
- Product warnings court cases are on the rise: Insurance industry estimates cite that between 50 to 70 percent of product liability lawsuits contain “failure to warn” or “inadequate warnings” allegations.
- Safety issues continue to be a top concern for workplace safety professionals:
- 5,190 workers were killed on the job in the U.S. in 2016.
- 2.9 million workers suffered nonfatal injuries and illnesses in the U.S. in 2016.
- A significant find of OSHA’s 2018 workplace safety violations list is that the total number of violations represents a 10.19 percent increase – or 2,942 more violations – than in 2017. It’s a telling benchmark that the top hazards, including hazard communication, lockout/tagout, and PPE issues, are a concern.
Value of Risk Management and Assessments
Identifying and addressing safety issues in your workplace and on the products you manufacture might seem overwhelming. But, it’s imperative for safety. According to OSHA, a “root cause” of workplace injuries, illnesses, and incidents is failing to identify or recognize hazards that are present, or that could have been anticipated. A critical element of an effective safety and health program – and of product safety – is a proactive, ongoing process to identify and assess such hazards.
According to Anne Mathias, a safety and human factors expert at Engineering Systems Inc. who was interviewed in a Clarion Safety video on the importance of the product risk assessment process , the goal of the risk assessment process is to reduce risks to an acceptable level so that you have a safe machine, a safe product, or a safe process.
“One particular example of a risk assessment might be a heavy duty hand held power tool. The question will be: is it going to perhaps apply too much torque to the user’s arm and hand? We could reduce the maximum torque that’s available but that takes away our utility because it’s no longer a heavy duty tool and that’s what our users are wanting; we could put on a permanent side handle to help stabilize that extra torque, but a side handle is often only used in about ten percent of cases so the user may reject that as well. It comes down to that user’s interaction and the training, warnings and instructions – as opposed to anything that we could do from a design standpoint in that particular tool,” Mathias says.
“So you’re likely going to need some safeguarding, engineering control, warning or training. What that balance is and how you optimize that balance, really depends on your specific application.”
When it comes to product safety, potential risks must be identified, and then a determination needs to be made as to whether they’re designed out, guarded or warned about.
From a legal perspective, you also need to define what hazards are “reasonably foreseeable” and “reasonable” ways to mitigate risks associated with hazards that can’t be designed out. The typical process is:
- Identify hazards
- Assess risk
- Reduce risk
- Document results
- Reassess the risk
Key Risk Assessment Standards
For consistency and to utilize the latest advances in risk management and risk assessment, following a standards-based risk assessment process is important. Recent risk assessment standards from ANSI and ISO exemplify today’s best practices in this field. These are useful tools to help prioritize risks and examine ways to reduce them, with helpful annexes for analyzing hazards and defining risk severity levels. The methods outlined in these standards can be tailored to become your team’s standardized process for product risk evaluation. Best practice standards in this field include:
- ANSI Z10 Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems
- ANSI B11.0 Safety of Machinery; General Requirements and Risk Assessment
- ISO 31000 Risk management – Guidelines
- ISO 31010 Risk management – Risk assessment techniques
- ISO 12100 Safety of Machinery – General
principles for design – Risk assessment and risk reduction
There are also a number of industry standards requiring risk assessments that may provide additional insight, including – among many others – machinery, packaging machinery, semiconductor equipment, electrical systems, fire and consumer products.
Labels, Signs and Tags – Where They Fit In
While safety labels, signs and tags may not always be considered a key driver of safety, they’re an important part of the equation in reducing risk and protecting people. Product safety labels and facility safety signs and tags can play a vital role in ensuring both safer machinery and ultimately safer workplaces. Equipment manufacturers and employers who implement effective, clear visual safety communication may enjoy fewer accidents and injuries, increased efficiency, and decreased liability exposure.
“Designing warning labels can be a tricky business…it’s not simply a matter of taking a generic warning label and slapping it anywhere on a machine. It’s often very helpful to have expertise that knows the standards that are out there that has read the human factors studies perhaps on this particular issue,” Mathias says.
Assessment Services for Safer Products and Workplaces
Clarion Safety offers free safety label and sign assessments to ensure your warnings meet today’s requirements. And, we also provide risk-related assessment services. Our risk assessment services include:
- Product risk assessments: Product-related risk
assessments can help manufacturers improve product/equipment safety, reduce
risk and comply with applicable legal requirements. From a legal perspective, “reasonably
foreseeable” hazards must be defined as well as “reasonable” ways to mitigate
risks associated with hazards that cannot be designed out. With risk
assessment, potential hazards can be identified with solutions provided as
early as possible in the product’s life cycle. They can be done
during the concept stage of the product’s design, during the final stage of
design, prototype production and testing, on a final manufactured product, and
after placement in the market if an accident occurs or if an unforeseen safety
concern arises. With many products, hazards remain even after the best safety
engineering design solutions are in place; risk assessments can help determine
which potential hazards deserve on-product labels as a means to further
communicate safety and reduce risk.
- Workplace risk assessments: Workplace-related risk assessment, sometimes referred to as job hazard analysis, can help to identify hazards and risks, as well as proper control means using hierarchy of controls decision-making to reduce risks to acceptable levels. As organizations look to implement processes to continually improve workplace safety in line with safety management system objectives, the ability to accurately communicate residual risks to workers, subcontractors and guests becomes critically important. When hazards can’t be eliminated from an area or designed out of a process, facility safety sign systems are a means to communicate residual risk and reinforce procedures, safety training and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Safety sign systems are part of a risk communication/risk reduction strategy, and can complement and support other critical risk reduction controls, like training.
Reach out to us here at Clarion Safety Systems for more information on how we can help with your product safety strategy or workplace safety needs.