What Is Safety?

What Is Safety?

Some people incorrectly assume the word ‘safety’ to mean “freedom from risk.” In reality, no such condition can or does exist, a fact expressly acknowledged by the National Safety Council, the American Association of Safety Engineers, the American National Standards Institute, and all other professional safety organizations.  Given this, what exactly is “safety”? Different sources provide differing viewpoints on this.

Black’s Law Dictionary, 10th Edition: “Not exposed to danger; not causing danger”

NSC’s Accident Prevention Manual for Business & Industry: “The control of recognized hazards to attain an acceptable level of risk.”

ANSI/ASSE Z590.3 Prevention through Design—Guidelines for Addressing Occupational Hazards and Risks in Design and Redesign Processes: “Freedom from unacceptable risk.”

Key to the definition of safety from reputable safety organizations is the concept of “acceptable risk”, but what does this mean?

According to ANSI B11.0—Safety of Machinery:

“Safe” is the state of being protected from recognized hazards that are likely to cause physical harm. There is no such thing as being absolutely safe, that is, a complete absence of risk. In turn, there is no machine that is absolutely safe. All machinery contains hazards, and some level of residual risk. However, the risk associated with those hazards should be reduced to an acceptable level.

acceptable risk: A risk level achieved after risk reduction measures have been applied. It is a risk level that is accepted for a given task (hazardous situation) or hazard. For the purpose of this standard, the terms “acceptable risk” and “tolerable risk” are considered to be synonymous.

The expression “acceptable risk” usually, but not always, refers to the level at which further technologically, functionally and financially feasible risk reduction measures or additional expenditure(s) of resources will not result in significant reduction in risk. The decision to accept (tolerate) a risk is influenced by many factors including the culture, technological and economic feasibility  of installing additional risk reduction measures, the degree of protection achieved through the use of additional risk reduction measures, and the regulatory requirements or best industry practice.

The user and supplier may have different level(s) of acceptable risk.

According to ANSI Z590.3 Prevention through Design Guidelines for Addressing Occupational Hazards and Risks in Design and Redesign Processes:

Acceptable Risk. That risk which meets the organization’s risk threshold and for which the likelihood of an incident or exposure occurring and the severity of harm or damage that may result are as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP) or feasible in the setting being considered.

As Low As Reasonably Practicable (ALARP). That level of risk which can be further lowered only by an increase in resource expenditure that is disproportionate in relation to the resulting decrease in risk.

It is noteworthy that no reputable safety organization recognizes “zero risk” as either attainable or a realistic goal in machine design. Numerous national and international consensus standards expressly state this.

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