Tuesday, November 22, 2016

"Safety"

“Security does not exist in nature.” – Helen Keller

Ms. Keller could figure that out, while burdened with significant handicaps. Can you?

You might have the expectation that today is going to be another fine day. It is natural for you to expect that, because days, weeks and years have gone by for you with no nasty surprises. Maybe something nasty is recent in your personal history, and you are facing the new day with hope so you can get through it. Maybe it hasn’t been necessary for you to think about things. You have been protected pretty well by modern society…

Well, that might change pretty fast. Let’s think about it now, before we have to hurry.

What is “safety”? Can you say what it is without using some variation of “safe” in your explanation?

Well – let’s talk about risk first.

Generally, this applies: 

Risk = Probability x Consequences

Probability is the likelihood something will happen. 
This is always a number between, but not including, 0 (never happens/will never happen) and 1 (always happens/is happening). 
These values are excluded because they are absolutes which cannot be observed to exist in properly defined venues – they are no longer probabilities.
Consequences is an “open” term, with positive and negative values, because this is set as part of the definition of the risk.

Risk always happens within a venue – within defined boundaries. Because {probability} is always positive and {consequences} can be negative or positive, Risk can be positive – a reward – or negative – a penalty. 
During any activity, {probability} and {consequences} change constantly, but by different degrees due to change in the environment.
You may notice that {consequences} also only appears when {probability} = 1.  The event of interest happens.

For one example, consider the Risk, “Injury from motorcycle crash”. 
If the Probability Of A Crash is reduced, then Risk is reduced; this can be achieved by either riding less often or by increasing the skill of the rider.
The Consequences Of The Crash will properly have a term which includes the severity of injury. There, it is obvious that protective gear, or selecting a lower travel speed will reduce the consequences, and therefore risk.

You have noticed that the level of reward changes constantly. When riding a motorcycle, this reward changes with perception, subjectively, rather than objectively. This is an important and key distinction: risk is NOT subject to your opinions or wishes, but reward is. You can confirm this for yourself by noting the countless times someone’s wishes failed to account for risks properly, and a tragedy occurred.

One may be as specific about risk as one wishes, so long as physics and logic are strictly observed.

There is another limitation to evaluating risk: your domain can be intruded upon by others. At the same time you are at risk of {event 1}, other events are also possible.

It is the job of the safety professional to anticipate these things, evaluate them for their influence and deflect as many as possible. These people have been ridiculously successful in their field – so much so that the exceptions are sometimes treated as dark humor.

There are a lot of situations in life, on TV and online that give us expectations of risk which are completely wrong. Count on physics. See this article on the “miracle”. We live in a physical world, regardless of our wishes or dreams.

So: "Safety" is the minimization of adverse risk by the preparation of defenses against adverse consequences.

Please remember that it is a goal to be striven for which cannot actually be reached.