March 15, 2019

Risk Exaggeration: Are We Sweating the Small Stuff?

I’m as human and fallible as the next person when it comes to physical work. Despite wearing jeans, steel-capped boots, a long-sleeved shirt, gloves, a hat and safety glasses when heavy labouring on my property, at the end of the day, I’m often surprised to find a spot of broken skin on my arms or legs. ‘When did that happen?’, I ask myself. Then, I might recall a bump on the shin or a scratch through the fabric of my shirt which I ignored at the time. Putting this in perspective of being personally conscientious when it comes to health and safety, real life has convinced me that not all incidents with undesirable outcomes are preventable.
In normal home life, most of us accept these minor first aid cases are part of being physically active. It’s ingrained in our upbringing that it’s okay to fall off a bike or to trip over in a running race. Can you imagine a child’s reaction if all the adults in the room came running over with serious concern every time a toddler fell over? What a lot of fuss and disproportionate response to the risk and the process of becoming competent.
Some organisations that claim to have a ‘Strong Safety Culture’ can get carried away with creating internal hype over first aid cases.
This can be attributed to my TOP 4 PITFALLS:
  1. The erroneous relationship between first aid case numbers and more serious events that was described by Heinrich’s Triangle, and which has now been found to be wrong. Quoting from Darryl C. Hill: “One issue with serious injury and fatality prevention (SIF) prevention is the longtime view that if first aid and recordable incidents are reduced, serious ones would decline as well. This view is a result with the Henrich pyramid that outlines that a consistent decline in total injuries will be accompanied by a decline in SIFs. The belief that OSH related incident rates are a good measurement barometer for serious injury and fatality potential must be discarded. This assertion assumes that most incidents share similar root causes and that less severe injuries will also prevent serious injuries and fatalities.”
  2. The historic focus on unsafe acts and unsafe conditions as the causes of incidents with the belief that about 96% of accidents are because of human failures and the rest are ‘Acts of God’. Are the workers with their first aid cases the precursors to catastrophe?
  3. The mythology that has grown out of the safety leadership development industry that advocates the importance of being seen to show care and concern.
  4. The obsession with statistics and more statistics.

Amidst these incorrect foundations of accident causation, blame, political correctness and number crunching, there are some basic questions which should but seldom get asked. These are my TOP 4 QUESTIONS TO ASK:
  1. What was the worst thing that could have happened? Realistically? Without extrapolating that a scratch can lead to infection which can lead to septicemia and death ie “Risk Exaggeration”.
  2. Was the work that resulted in the first aid case unsafe?
  3. If the work was not unsafe ie the risk was as low as reasonably practicable, is there need for further investigation of mitigations and at what cost in terms of time and investment compared to the marginal loss caused by the first aid case?
  4. More broadly what are the REAL COSTS OF FIRST AID CASES? For instance, if I was a Construction Manager, and there was a queue of workers at the first aid hut receiving bandaid treatments, I’d be asking if this is really a safety issue or a PRODUCTIVITY ISSUE. This would be my calculation:

Labour cost per first aid injured worker per hour x time away from the job

= Impact on schedule

So far, I’ve raised a problem. The 10 solutions are:

  1. Be realistic about safe vs unsafe and avoid the top 4 pitfalls.
  2. Ask the top 4 questions.
  3. Talk to the workers about the productivity implications of first aid cases rather than enshrining these incidents in ‘Safety’. A tradesperson’s most important tools are their hands. Hand injuries cause 1. Pain 2. Time away from the job for treatment 3. Difficulty in doing a quality job and 4. Difficulty in maintaining productivity.
  4. Make the provision of first aid easier at the coal-face rather than mandating a visit to the site nurse. Trust your supervisors and workers to agree on treatment.
  5. Make the reporting process simple and unbureaucratic.
  6. Focus time and resources on preventing fatalities, serious injuries and debilitating illnesses.
  7. Build the safety culture on effective risk management at all levels of the business.
  8. Avoid RISK EXAGGERATION to the most unlikely consequences.
  9. Demonstrate visible leadership through genuine concern about serious life-changing events.
Tania is an international author specializing in managing risk to improve productivity, quality work and HSE performance. She has extensive experience in Australia across diverse industries.

For more information about ALIGN Risk Management’s ½ Day Effective Risk Management Program and 1-2 Day Leadership Programs, contact Tania at

About Tania and ALIGN Risk Management

Tania Van der Stap is the Founder and Principal Director of ALIGN Strategic Management Services Pty Ltd established in 2002, after having Productive Safety Management published internationally by Butterworth-Heinemann. The publication presents a strategic, multi-disciplinary management system for hazardous industries that ties safety and production together.
From 2002 to 2012, Tania provided HSE consulting services to Chevron’s Gorgon Project, Monadelphous, Baker Hughes, Fortescue Metals Group and Worley Parsons. Thereafter for 5 years, Tania took a HSE Manager’s role with AngloGold Ashanti Australia where she made significant improvements taking the department from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘proactive’ on the HSE journey.

In late 2016, her company was rebadged to ALIGN Risk Management specialising in HSE Consulting and Risk Leadership Programs for managers, supervisors, HSE professionals and workers. Her chapter on ‘Risk Leadership – A Multi-Disciplinary Approach’ has been accepted by the American Society of Safety Professionals and will be published in Safety Leadership and Professional Development ahead of the ASSP’s 2018 Safety Conference.

Van der Stap, T 2018. ‘Risk Leadership – A Multidisciplinary Approach’ in S
afety Leadership and Professional Development. American Society of Safety Professionals. USA.
Mol, T. 2003. Productive Safety Management. Butterworth Heinemann. Oxford. (Note: Tania Van der Stap is the author of this publication)
Hill, Darryl, C., 2018, “Chapter 13 Key Topics for Exemplary OSH Performance”, Safety Leadership and Professional Development, American Society of Safety Professionals.
© 2019 Align Strategic Management Services Pty Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

ALIGN Risk Management specializes in Productive Safety Management, and believe HSEQ systems can be efficient, cost-effective and ensure continuity of production.

Want to know more? Then don’t hesitate to get in touch with us >

INX Software

Be informed of the latest industry news, key updates and our product and version releases, by following us on LinkedInFacebook, and Twitter. You can also get them delivered straight to your mailbox here.