One of my favorite extracurricular activities is skiing. Each year, my brother-in-law Tom and I travel to Colorado to tackle the slopes. As we ski, I am aware of a whole world of safety risks unfolding around me. Young children are being monitored and protected by parents as the youngsters develop their own ski legs, and no risks are tolerated. The other end of the risk spectrum seems to be frequently populated by snow boarders who strap on a helmet with cool looking goggles that can limit their vision and ear buds that eliminate their sound activated warning system. An OSHA analogy comes into play as ski patrol personnel are there to keep out of control people from literally impacting others.
Our last ski vacation provided another valuable risk example. The mountain on which we were skiing was hosting a Grand Prix ski event for ‘adaptive skiers.’ We were amazed as men and women – who were missing arms, legs or were partially paralyzed – demonstrated their skills and abilities on races we would never even attempt. Risks? Yes, but well outfitted, closely monitored and definitely staying within the limits of their own personal restrictions.
In the industrial workplace, there is a similar spectrum of people with their own personal risk appetite. A number of safety tenants – like careful training and monitoring of actual performance – are apparent. However, there are many factors that influence risk appetite such as: peer groups, surroundings, the presence or absence of other personnel and other intangibles related to the personal risk tolerance of the individual.
In the safety profession, we must be aware of the personal risk tolerance of our individual employees and act accordingly. Our own personal risk tolerance and the rules we set for safety are not interpreted the same by every person. One size does not fit all on the ski slopes or in the workplace. Some employees are like Tom who, as a result of his personality and life experiences, just doesn’t take risks. Others don’t even seem to be aware of surrounding risks as they remain focused on getting to the day’s finish line as rapidly and intensely as possible. These people need special coaching and monitoring. They must be put on a carefully prescribed risk diet plan, and if they will not practice and live our safety standards and principles we must remove them from our safety culture before they impact themselves or our other employees.