From: Daniel Kuespert <0000057d3b6cd9b7-dmarc-request**At_Symbol_Here**LISTS.PRINCETON.EDU>
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] [New post] Health and Safety II?
Date: Fri, 2 Aug 2019 16:22:47 -0400
Reply-To: ACS Division of Chemical Health and Safety <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**PRINCETON.EDU>
I read the post, and something about it didn't sit right with me. After some thought, I think perhaps it is the characterization of a work (or other) environment as "safe" or "unsafe." We've all spent a lot of time talking about moving to a cognitive model for safety that operates on a "risk continuum," where there are shades of "relatively un/safe" between the extremes. The whole RAMP model that we're using relies on making risk judgments.
I take some of the author's point about certain environments being unstable, but perhaps "dynamically stable" is a better description. If a system is unstable, acting upon it may bring it back to the original stable configuration. A fireground or mass casualty event are not unstable-you're not going to return to the pre-event state (intact building, uninjured patients). The best you can hope for is to find a safe path to a different "safe" state, which may or may not be as safe as the one you started from (e.g., burned building with fire out; nominally safe, but maybe not as structurally safe as a building without fire damage).
In the research lab, we work with new science, new technology-and there really aren't any "safety rules" for that situation. We can use established safe practices to control the ancillary hazards, like broken glass in the sink, but the hazards associated with the new compound we're synthesizing may not be known. (Interestingly, the two laboratory technicians who first synthesized dimethylmercury in the 1860's both died horribly within a month.)
The researcher must have the skills to acquire relevant data on hazards, estimate what he or she doesn't have, and make rational risk judgments. It's not so much that "unstable" environments necessarily require additional controls; what they really need is additional information. The fire commander arriving at the fireground does not begin immediately applying hazard controls; he or she immediately starts trying to determine what the **!*$ is happening and what risks it poses to his crew and any members of the public present. Only then will he or she make the necessary decisions to begin attacking the fire with minimum risk.
The author's two categories of "intervention needed only when some hazard appears" and "unstable environment requiring intervention because of the presence of uncontrolled hazards" should really be a continuum of "low risk-intervention not worth it" to "high risk-reduce drastically before trying to operate here." The difference really is, we should be making our judgments of what controls to apply by the risk posed, not by the hazard presented.
Anyway, that's my $0.02. Well, it was five paragraphs, so perhaps $0.10.
Daniel Reid Kuespert, PhD, CSP
11101 Wood Elves Way
Columbia, MD 21044
This blog post describes a safety culture challenge I have encountered in the research lab setting - balancing managing risk with pushing into areas with unknown hazards. It also describes a cultural stress that develops in discussions between emergency responders
and people who work with hazards under controlled circumstances.
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