In a world defined by rapid technological advancement, is it time we start to ask the question, are all changes to our equipment good ones, particularly when they are used as a way of mitigating hazards at work, without due consideration of the other legs of the Risk Management Continuum?

Well thought out, well planned equipment purchases make our jobs easier, safer, and in some cases possible as without it, some environments may be too dangerous to otherwise work there. However, in my experience many procurement decisions around equipment are made in order to eliminate a hazard, sometimes creating new unexpected hazards, or in some cases creating hazards where there previously were none. When decisions on equipment are made without considering the impact on Policy, Environment and Human Factors are we actually making our workplaces safer?

I offer the following example from my time in the fire service, along with the knock-on effects in each of the other legs of the Risk Management Continuum ….

Moisture Barrier in Structural Firefighting PPE

Hazard to be eliminated: Steam burns from using water in a confined space. Chemical attack on skin.

Evidence/Likelihood of Steam burns? Unclear.

Hazard created: Increased risk of heat strain in firefighters during their work.

Risk created: Heat related injuries and fatalities such as Heart Attacks and poor decision making.

Knock-on considerations:

  • Environment: Many organisations require their firefighters to wear structural PPE to all events including crash rescue. Are we now making their work harder by asking them to wear clothes that are hotter?

Result: Working is now hotter when wearing structural firefighting PPE, thus increasing the risk of fatigue and injury.

Considerations: Can individuals safely continue to work at the rate required to quickly resolve incidents (human)? Do policies need to change to reflect the new reality (policy)?

  • Human: Are firefighters happy to wear this new PPE? By reducing the evaporative capacity of firefighters to assist them with cooling, they feel hotter and fatigue quicker.

Result: Many firefighters, if given the option, will wear older gear to stay cooler.

Considerations: Do organisations mandate wearing of new PPE (policy)? Can they afford to replace all gear at once to ensure compliance or just hope that firefighters do the right thing (human).

  • Policy: Many organisations still mandate the wearing of structural PPE to all emergency responses citing reasons such as “cars catch fire following a crash so we need to be prepared”. Is this still a valid reason with modern cars? Do they explode like in the movies or can a single operator with a line of hose cover what will likely be a small fire rather than a raging inferno?

Result: Standard Operating Procedures need to be reflective of modern technology advancements.

Considerations: Will individual officers allow their firefighters to “dress down” where appropriate (human)? Can we “teach old dogs new tricks?” Can we change policies to better reflect the new reality (policy)?

Of course this is only one example, in one industry, of where equipment procurement decisions must be made with due consideration of the other legs of the Risk Management Continuum in order to deliver value for money, ensure compliance and ultimately improve safety.

Written by Anthony Walker

I'm a human performance specialise, using cutting edge research and science to optimise the performance of workers in high pressure environments.

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