A focus on fatal risk management

A critical aspect of any organisations Safety Management System (SMS) is the identification, assessment and mitigation of Fatal Risks. Wherever there is a potential for a given workforce or members of the public to be harmed in the course of business undertakings, organisations must act to eliminate Fatal Risks where possible or to manage the risk to a level that is as so far as is reasonably practicable (SFAIRP).

A Fatal Risk is a situation or hazardous activity that has the potential to result in a fatality if established controls and defences are ineffective. Fatal Risk controls are therefore considered to be mandatory requirements (procedural, equipment and people) that must be in place to eliminate the potential occurrence of a Fatal Risk event(s).

Over the last 20 years there has been an increasing trend across safety critical industries such as transport, mining, construction and energy, to move away from prescribing controls for every hazard, activity and circumstance, and instead shift the emphasis towards empowering people to take a risk-based approach to implementing controls with the aim of preventing Fatal Risk events, consistent with striving towards Zero Harm objectives

Why focus on fatal risks?

The identification, assessment and mitigation of Fatal Risks should provide a focus on front-end planning, risk management and innovation across the operational lifecycle of any business that places a high value on proactive safety management. The development of Fatal Risk Minimum Control Standards should creates a simpler and more effective practical reference framework to effectively manage low likelihood, high impact events that have the potential to lead to catastrophic and fatal outcomes.

Fatal Risk Minimum Control Standards are not designed to replace the Safety Management System (SMS) within an organisation: rather to emphasise the most important requirements for every element of planning and execution of work that involves Fatal Risks. Benefits of embedding Fatal Risk management requirements across a business include:

  • Provides a means by which to maintain commitment from all leaders to implement a systematic fatality prevention program;
  • Engages all employees in the process of fatality prevention; and
  • Provides a framework for compliance with the Fatal Risk Minimum Control Standards consistent with the expectations of the business for safe behaviour during the conduct of work tasks.

Developing Fatal Risk Management Controls  

Gather a diverse cross-section of people representing all business divisions and conduct bow-tie risk management workshops to assess each fatal risk type and to document existing controls.

Embedding Fatal Risk Controls

Once you have a guide, it is important to embed them across your business via the following strategies:

  • Communicating the Fatal Risk Control Standards – it is vital that relevant workers and managers fully understand the need to plan and design their work so the Control Standards are consistently applied and sustained to keep workers safe. These controls must be reflected in systems, procedures and processes, but more importantly the controls must be implemented at the front line.
  • Developing clear expectations about safety behaviour – simple, plain English statements and commitments that reflect the expectations of the business as to how people should behave for each Fatal Risk type. For example, “I will always drive to the current road conditions”.
  • Training – workers should be trained in any new or improved work procedures to ensure they are able to perform the task or activity safely.
  • Accountability for health and safety – Managers and supervisors should be provided with the authority and resources to implement and maintain Fatal Risk control measures effectively.
  • Reporting and trend analysis – Incident data should be analysed to identify high potential incidents; trending of Fatal Risk type causal factors and absent or ineffective control measures.
  • Identify and assess new or emerging risks – The implementation of a safety observation program should be considered to observe work activities and practices related to the Fatal Risk activities and to observe how effective the controls are in minimising the risk. Formal reviews should be undertaken to check their validity against industry best practice and any updates to standards or legislation.
  • Induction – The relevant aspects of the Minimum Control Standards should form part of the induction program for all new workers and be part of subcontractor on-boarding.
  • Feedback systems – Where safety alerts, toolbox talks, and other ongoing communication channels are being utilised, reference to one or more Fatal Risks should be made where relevant.
  • Work practice review – Prior to implementation of any change to a current work practice relating to any Fatal Risk, it will need to be verified that such changes are fit for purpose, work as designed and do not introduce new hazards;
  • Risk assessment – Field based risk assessment activities will need to acknowledge the Fatal Risk and relevant control standards to ensure that mandatory controls are selected as appropriate.
  • Safety audit program – An audit program should be integrated with current activities and aligned with the Minimum Control Standards to provide assurance that the WHS risk management systems, safety critical elements and relevant minimum Fatal Risk controls are operating as required, fit-for-purpose and are adhered to as designed.
Want to know more?

Attend our highly practical 2-Day program on Proactive Loss of Control Analysis (P-LOCA) which is based on a contemporary adaptation and integration of the principles of Reason’s Swiss Cheese model with the Bow Tie Risk assessment methodology. P-LOCA is a systemic proactive approach for identifying the efficacy of prevention and mitigation critical risk controls. It enables potential events to be analysed, drawing on the collective experience and knowledge of operational personnel about the adequacy of critical controls to manage risk in their workplace; which are often understood implicitly by frontline operators in safety-critical roles; but are seldom made explicit to those at higher levels of the organisation.

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