Newton's Third Law & the Power of Risk Assessments

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Guest Post by Greg Gerganoff


Who would have thought a law of physics would have any application in safety?   

Have you ever heard, "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction"? It's Sir Isaac Newton's Third Law. For every action a business takes there is an equal and opposite reaction. All reactions have two possible outcomes and the action taken determines the reaction outcome, either positive or negative. 

With some literary license, let's apply the Third Law to safety as follows:

Identified risks steps implemented to reduce or eliminate risk = positive outcome. (Granted, this is not purely a physics equation but Newton would likely appreciate this unique application of his law.)

So what is a risk assessment? First, job tasks are identified. Then hazards associated with the job tasks are identified. Next, the level of risk is identified (high, medium or low), and finally the mitigation action is identified. Pretty simple really.

Some object that assessments take too much time and money. True, but risk assessments require much less time and expense than will be spent handling a loss (injury or equipment damage or production down time). Keep in mind that a loss cost is not positive as it replaces only what you had before the loss whereas a risk assessment helps you keep what you already have.

Some might further argue that they already study incidents and use that as a learning tool. This may be true, but such an approach comes with a price, namely the incident and all that it entails. Why not skip the incident costs all together?

Looking for another benefit of a risk assessment? Toolbox talks and safety training topics come to mind. Just look at the risk assessment. It will identify plenty of germane topics for safety training.

Risk assessments are fairly easy to complete especially if crews are involved. They can point out risks pretty quickly and likely have workable solutions as well. Engage your crews in a risk assessment. They will help.

Let's go back to where we began: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. A risk assessment is an action that will produce an equal and opposite positive reaction. You identify the risks and means of reducing or eliminating the risk, and the reaction will be fewer incidents. That is positive. Newton's Third Law had a significant effect on the physics world. Applying this line of thinking to your business safety efforts can produce a significantly positive reaction as well.

Greg Gerganoff, ASP, CSP, Esq., is president of Rocky Mountain Safety Consulting  Inc. He is a member of ASSE's Colorado Chapter and a member of the Oil & Gas Practice Specialty.

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