Risk Theory

The idea that you can identify hazards and can determine risk implies that there are a considerable number of possibilities that can happen. This opens up the possibility of two dimensions that must be considered. They are: frequency and consequence.

What is Risk Assessment?

Using these two definitions (frequency and consequence) risk assessment is the process by which an individual identifies what hazards they are exposed to, analyzes or assesses the probability that something is going to occur; and determines of an appropriate method to mitigate or control the hazard.

But let us use a real world example from a construction site. We all know that the assembly of a structure involves the use of combustible materials. Wood forms for pouring concrete, wood scaffolding, paper, plastic, combustible and flammable liquids and gases, as well as other materials are present in large amounts. We also know that tools will be used on these materials that produce heat, or can release energy that can ignite materials. We know that there is a requirement in many cases to perform hot work to assemble metal objects. Open flames are sometimes involved.

Risk assessment consists of being aware of the relationship between materials and ignition sources and doing everything you can to prevent their combination. The goal of risk assessment to remove all hazards or reduce the level of risk by adding precautionary or control measures through human intervention.

Risk assessment can be done by an individual or by a team. Notably, the risk assessment is done by one individual they must have tremendous working knowledge of worksite. When you introduce a team to the risk assessment process you improve the synergy of observations and actions. What we mean by synergy is that a group of people will almost always perform better assessment because they feed off each other’s ideas and observations. Supervisory or management personnel should work with the team for purposes of accountability.

Risk Reduction or Mitigation

The term for a person or organization attention to detail in removing hazards is called risk reduction or risk mitigation.

The following are considered best management practices

  • Keeping adequate separation between combustibles and potential ignition sources is one of the easiest ways to minimize the chances of a fire at construction sites. This is often thought of as housekeeping, but it is also risk reduction!
  • One of the most important ways to control ignition sources would be to use and enforce a hot work “permit” system.
  • Ensure that all temporary wiring and heating equipment is turned off when personnel are not present Do not allow ANY smoking near combustibles.
  • Properly dispose of any oil-soaked rags, especially linseed oil.
  • Good housekeeping should include, but not be limited to: cleaning and properly discarding of any packaging; storing combustibles away from active work areas where ignition sources could be present; and regularly cleaning and removing any combustible, shavings, sawdust or scrap wood products that are produced.

Do Risks and Hazards Change over phases of a project?

Yes, they do. At different stages of construction different conditions will exist. The effects of a potential fire can be minimized by coordinating the order in which certain stages of construction are completed. Obviously materials had to be brought on site be utilized by the labor force. Some will come packaged, some will be bundled. Others will be stacked or assembled in staging areas. The site fire prevention manager and the labor force utilizing these materials need to be sensitive to these changes. Moreover, some of these changes could affect the local fire department. An excellent example might be storage that interferes with access to the site, or reduces availability of water supply outlets. It is for this reason that all parties remain alert to the consequences of these changes.