Control hazardsA poor way to control hazards

Do you control hazards effectively; I came across this at a training session at a client’s training room. If you look closely at the picture these two pens are different as the distinction is written on the markers in the fine print. One is a Permanent marker and the other for Whiteboards. A distinction I only realised when attempting to erase some of the work on the whiteboard.

How would you go choosing the correct one of these off the whiteboard tray in your training room? ‘No big deal’ I was told, as they had the whiteboard cleaner and rag on hand for when this happens.

But surely this is like ‘parking the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff’ or having the ‘Ambulance down the valley’ as it was earlier termed in sermons and many political speeches. This is an analogy where the problem is being looked at backwards, through trying to treat its consequences rather than its cause. This is a poor method to control hazards. In essence it’s a restatement of the proverb, “prevention is better than cure”.

So, I cleaned off the whiteboard and continued this time using the whiteboard marker as one of the staff members returned the permanent marker to the tray holding all the other markers. All set for the next unsuspecting presenter but remember the whiteboard cleaner and rag is on hand when it does happen again. This is a simple, yet ‘tongue in cheek’, example of when considering controls for workplace hazards that the Elimination, Substitution or Engineering controls are far better than the administrative process of using signs, training and/or procedures.

Would a sign on the wall stating ‘please don’t use permanent markers’, have really helped? But why leave the permanent marker there, why not get rid of the permanent markers and only purchase the whiteboard type, or at least make a clear distinction between the two types. A simple question but it appeared easier to have the whiteboard cleaner available for when the mistake occurred because sometimes the wrong markers were either purchased or brought into the room from other areas of the business.

Then came the clincher ‘But this is how we have always done this.’ Change the words ‘whiteboard/permanent marker’ in this situation to just about any item of plant that has a particular hazard when you put a control into place.

How to control hazards following the Hierarchy of controls

The WHS legislation is specific where it states that Elimination must be considered first to control hazards. Then if not reasonably practicable to move down the list choosing one or more controls. The WHS Legislation requires businesses to use the hierarchy of controls to remove or reduce risk in your workplace.
The process starts with the most effective control method (removing the hazard from your workplace completely) to the least effective (wearing personal protective equipment/PPE).
You must use the highest-ranked control that is practical for controlling the risk. Lower-ranked controls can be used to supplement the higher-level controls or in instances where there is currently no effective way of controlling risk.

Businesses should consider using more than one control measure as the most effective way to control hazards.
• Eliminate the hazard
• Substitute the hazard
• Isolate the hazard
• Use engineering controls
• Use administrative controls
• Use personal protective equipment (PPE)

Then ask the question ‘are you parking an ambulance at the base of the cliff?’, are you allowing the hazard to eventuate and then dealing with it using a lower-level control. Safework Australia provides guidance on how to control hazards in the Code of Practice Risk Management for this topic.

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