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Risk versus Safety


A constant battle which has raged for many a year and shows no sign of slowing down is that of risk versus safety. With supporters on both sides who will fiercely defend their belief and vehemently decry the other, it means health and safety has become an extremely divisive subject.

How Much Risk Should be Tolerated?

One of the central issues revolves around the level of risk that should be tolerated and allowed to exist. For some, any risk no matter how slight should be eliminated if it is within a person's power to do so. This typically involves cancelling events and banning certain activities taking place. At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who believe that life is by its very nature a risky enterprise and that things should just be enjoyed and hope nobody gets hurt.

A Happy Medium for Risk?

Somewhere in the middle of these polar opposites, at varying degrees between them, lie the majority of people who take a more balanced view. Their belief is that whilst they accept that some degree of risk is associated with everything in life, there should also be suitable precautions taken to minimise the danger. The key word here is suitable. Rather than a blanket ban on anything and everything, each situation should be carefully considered and the potential dangers contemplated in a risk assessment, which will then be used as a basis upon which to introduce various safety measures which minimise the danger to health. This can include a number of different things including health and safety training courses, automatic safeguards, emergency evacuation plans etc.

Attempting to eliminate all and every risk is an impossible task. Those trying will never succeed. They may think that the world is such a dangerous place outside that sitting quietly indoors is the only safe thing to do. But what happens if the ceiling beams are rotten and it collapses? Or a meteor lands on the house? Or they fall asleep and a spark from a plug socket causes a catastrophic fire? However low the probability, nothing can ever be ruled out, and so it must be accepted that danger exists all around and can only be reduced down to acceptable levels rather than totally removed.

Of course, these "acceptable levels" is the contentious point which will vary from person to person. When trying to weigh it up, the calculation will often involve the probability/likelihood, and the potential damage that could be done - e.g. would it result in certain death or just bring about an illness which, even though unpleasant, can be easily cured?

An Example - The Risk of Flying

In regards to the probability, take the following example. There is no denying the fact that quite a few people have been killed over the previous decade in aircraft disasters, so there is obviously a certain level of risk involved with getting on a plane and flying. Despite best efforts, it is highly likely that others will also die in aircraft-related incidents in the future. Some people would therefore argue that as there is a risk of death, all flying should be banned, as even if one death can be prevented then surely it is worth saving that life?

Therefore banning all flying would save lives. However, the reason it is not done is because there are literally thousands of flights each day which pass without incident, so much so that flying is actually considered the safest mode of transport statistically. The likelihood of people being killed or injured is so low that it does not justify a total ban on flying and the negative effect that not being able to travel to any location by plane would have on the world's population (they could go by boat, but boats can sink!).

Talking about human lives as part of a risk/reward scenario sounds rather callous and uncaring, but the truth is that a decision not to ban flying is made on this basis, as authorities weigh up the lives that would be saved versus the detrimental effects which would be felt by the entire world were no passengers or cargo allowed to fly anywhere.

Rather then blanket banning flying, authorities enforce strict conditions and requirements from aircraft owners and operators to ensure that they do everything they possibly can to make their aircraft safe and get their passengers to and from their destination without harm. These include aspects such as thorough and regular maintenance, training for pilots and ground crew, limitations on working hours, limitations on operating conditions such as wind speed or visibility etc.

As alluded to earlier, if flying were to be banned, people would have to go by boats which can sink, or trains which can derail, or cars which can crash. This is a prime example of risk never being able to be eliminated; even if one form of risk was somehow closed off it would still just lead to an increase in an alternative, which in this example would be even more statistically-risky forms of transportation than flying.

Selected Courses

Please see below for a selection of health and safety courses and qualifications which you may be interested in:

NEBOSH National Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety

The NEBOSH National Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety is the flagship NEBOSH qualification, and is the first UK vocational qualification to be developed specifically for health and safety professionals.

The NEBOSH National Diploma provides the core health and safety knowledge (transferable across industry, commerce and the public sector) which, combined with understanding and appropriate application, underpins the competent performance of an occupational health and safety practitioner.

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NEBOSH National General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety

The NEBOSH General Certificate is one of the most popular and widely-held health and safety qualifications in the UK. It is intended to be taken by managers, supervisors and any other employees who require an understanding of general health and safety issues.

The NEBOSH General Certificate covers the main legal requirements for health and safety in the UK, along with the identification and control of workplace hazards, and the practical application of this knowledge. The general content of the NEBOSH General Certificate syllabus means it is suitable and relevant for those working in virtually any industry, and is often used as a solid foundation for those going on to further study and specialising in a particular area such as construction site health and safety or fire safety.

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IOSH Managing Safely Course

The IOSH Managing Safely course is designed for managers and supervisors of organisations in virtually all industry sectors, in order to give them all they need to know to effectively manage health and safety in the workplace.

Recently updated, the new high impact programme covers key health and safety issues, and includes references to international case studies.

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CITB Site Management SMSTS Course

The Site Management Safety Training Scheme (SMSTS) is one of the most popular health and safety training courses, and is intended for construction site managers, project managers and senior supervisors, as well as proprietors of smaller companies.

Client-based personnel would also benefit from attending the SMSTS course.

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CITB Health and Safety Awareness Course

This course is for those who have entered, or are about to enter, the construction and civil engineering industry as a member of the workforce to help them understand the potential hazards that they face at work on site. It aims to provide a practical summary of health and safety, welfare and environmental health and safety issues.

The course also allows delegates to identify their individual responsibilities for looking after themselves and others, what the employer's duties are and what should be done if they think anyone's health and safety is being put at risk.

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