Events and soft signals: how to tell if something needs your immediate attention | IMPAC health and safety

21 May, 2018  |  News

By Dan Davis 


When something goes wrong, or when you get a soft signal that prods at your conscience, you will have to decide whether it needs your time and attention or not. You may need to drop everything, stop the job, or take some serious action.


Here’s a simple way to help you decide:

1. Identify the hazard or source of energy involved.

2. Look at the actual consequences (if there are any), but also think about potential consequences, relating to:

  • Individual health
  • Individual safety
  • Collective wellbeing
  • Regulatory action
  • Or business consequences such as physical asset loss or damage, business disruption, intellectual property loss or reputation / bad publicity.

3. Consider the following questions to uncover more about the consequences and the risk (uncertainty) involved: 

  • Are the potential consequences immediate or delayed? Often when consequences are not immediate they can be downplayed or underestimated. Health effects are a good example of this.

  • What is happening in your work environment that has increased uncertainty? This could relate to a change in the availability of resources (timeframes, the right competent people, correct equipment), a deviation from the intended work plan, or a change in work priorities.

  • What is happening in the external context of the business that has increased uncertainty? This could include client demands, public expectations, regulatory interest, weather and other environmental events, economic, and market changes.

  • How often is there exposure to the hazard? When more people are exposed to the potential for harm, more often, there will be more opportunities for unusual and unanticipated situations that could lead to harm. 

  • How confident are you in the existing controls? Do you have evidence of their reliability and resilience?

4. Identify whether something happened involving an identified critical risk and its controls. This is a sure indicator that you need to act swiftly. In other words, if potential consequences are high, and something has occurred that indicates that the controls are not as originally planned – stop and review.


Here are some examples:

Actual consequences but no urgent action needed: one of your team got a nasty bruise because they stubbed their toe on a step.

Potential consequences warranting urgent action: one of your team got a minor bruise because a fork lift truck dropped its 2-tonne load and some of the pieces landed on their foot.

Critical risk control failure prompting an immediate response: one of your team forgot to lock out a machine before going inside to work on it.



About the author:

Dan Davis is a Health and Safety Specialist at IMPAC. He has over 13 years’ experience in providing OHS advice and training in a wide variety of settings, including local government, health, social care and education sectors, SMEs, agriculture, and distribution.


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