In Australia there has been a paradigm shift in the way safety risk management is conducted. The new Work Health & Safety Act has replaced the old approach typified by the Risk Management standard, AS/NZS ISO 31000.
We have heard conversations in the engineering community that the move away from AS/NZS ISO 31000 doesn’t necessarily present a better way forward, and that the standard in fact demonstrates safety due diligence including safety in design requirements. I do not share this view.
The key issue arises from the use of the notion of target (tolerable or acceptable) levels of risk. ISO 31000 is quite specific in the processes and definitions:
2.24 risk evaluation
The process of comparing the results of risk analysis (2.21) with risk criteria (2.22) to determine whether the risk (2.1) and/or its magnitude is acceptable or tolerable.
5.4.4 risk evaluation
Risk evaluation involves comparing the level of risk found during the analysis process with risk criteria established when the context was considered. Based on this comparison, the need for treatment can be considered.
The section of the treatment options is more careful.
5.5.2 selection of risk treatment options
Selecting the most appropriate risk treatment option involves balancing the costs and efforts of implementation against the benefits derived, with regard to legal, regulatory, and other requirements such as social responsibility and the protection of the natural environment. Decisions should also take into account risks, which can warrant risk treatment that is not justifiable on economic grounds, e.g. severe (high negative consequence) but rare (low likelihood) of risks.
The due diligence approach required by the new WHS Act deals with the severe safety (high negative consequence) but rare events. The standard seems to suggest that this is a supplementary risk management concern, not a primary focus.
Unfortunately by following the standard for safety risk management, businesses may in fact be heading towards a ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ proof of recklessness in the event of a serious injury or death. This could potentially create criminal liabilities for responsible officers under the provisions of the new WHS Act.
If you'd like to learn more about the new Work Health & Safety Act and implications of risk, Engineering Education Australia's Engineering Due Diligence workshop will describe in detail ways to demonstrate safety due diligence. It provides decision-makers with tools to implement due diligence processes as part of good governance ensuring that the laws of nature are managed to the satisfaction of the laws of man. This includes project, safety in design, environmental and financial outcomes. Find out more here.
- Richard Robinson