Rethinking our approach to risk management

In this, my last editorial for 2012, I have decided to revisit a topic that generated a lot of feedback and discussion when I questioned the direction we are taking in safety management in my May editorial. Since then, a number of serious incidents, including three fatalities in Queensland, have given a strong message about the need in our industry to focus on the control of hazards that have, and continue, to injure workers in the quarrying industry.

I make no apology for my criticism, in previous editorials, of some complex and cumbersome safety management systems that fail to address the hazards, management of controls and consultation with workers that are critical to ensuring that sites maintain a safe system of work.

We have the control of this in our hands. We can develop our own simple safety systems that address the fundamentals of fit for purpose equipment, competent workers, isolation of energy and risk management practices that are focused on identification of hazards and the control of these hazards.

In many cases, we can come up with engineering or substitution controls that effectively eliminate the hazard. We do not need complicated, theory-based safety systems that focus on safe work procedures, complicated processes and other low level controls to manage safety. Attention to the guarding of conveyors, belts and other nip points, ensuring we use the right plant or tool for each and every job and ensuring we never, ever work on plant while it is running or the guards are off will take us a long way to ensuring we manage our operations safely.

Professor Jim Joy, a world-renowned consultant to the mining industry on risk management and the 2012 recipient of the IQA’s Atlas Copco Award, spoke at a recent quarrying safety seminar in Brisbane, where he too emphasised the need for a rethink in the way we approach risk management. Professor Joy lists the following issues with the way we approach risk management:

1)    We struggle to identify the hazards.
2)    There is far too much emphasis on “filling out the forms”.
3)    We rely too heavily on the 5 by 5 matrix (risk assessment).
4)    We don’t put enough emphasis on managing the controls.

These things are not about process or systems, but about the way we think in relation to managing safety. We need to change this thinking and refocus ourselves, our managers and our workers on what safety is really about, ensuring everyone on our sites is safe from harm.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my first year as IQA President and have been lucky enough to have visited most branches and met many of you. I sincerely thank all the volunteers who give freely of their time to assist with the administration and organisation of branch activities. I am also grateful for the hard work of the IQA national secretariat.

My wife Vicki and I wish all of you and your families a very merry Christmas and a safe and prosperous new year.

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