December 20, 2022
3 Steps to Successful Emergency Prevention

Identifying risks, prioritizing action, and implementing risk control

Paul Ahnberg

Emergency situations demand our attention because of the adverse outcomes that impact our communities, employees, environment, and businesses. Proactive steps must be taken to prevent and plan for emergencies using modern technology. Building an app with ReadyKey can support emergency prevention and other EHS compliance practices by putting necessary information in the palm of your hand. Anyone can build a Ready App (a mobile application built on our platform) with no coding experience required. It’s a great alternative to traditional EHS software. 

The emergency prevention process can be broken down into three components: 

  1. Team-Based Risk and Vulnerability Identification
  2. Detailed Risk Assessment and Ranking
  3. Effective Identification and Implementation of Controls

Worker using an emergency preparedness app
Access emergency prevention information in a Ready App

Team-based Risk and Vulnerability Identification

Identifying anticipated risks is the first step in emergency prevention. Some instances may be straightforward, for example, if a distribution center is built in an area known to have a high chance of flooding. At other times though, a systematic identification process might be necessary.

Systematic risk identification often begins with broad categories of emergencies, for example:

  • Fires
  • Hazardous Material Releases
  • Medical and/or Safety Incidents
  • Natural Disasters
  • Workplace Threats
  • Risks not listed above

It’s imperative to take a holistic, team-based view of risk identification. In practice, this means inviting and integrating diverse perspectives and areas of expertise into your risk prevention team. This includes expertise from EHS, production, and maintenance as well as human resources, quality assurance, security, and everyone on the team from management to entry-level employees.

Once assembled this team will identify an in-depth list of specific emergency risks. The next step is to assess and prioritize these risks.

Assessing and Prioritizing Risks

There are many ways to assess and prioritize a facility’s emergency risks. One common approach is using the severity-likelihood matrix which often takes the form of a 5 x 5 matrix, with the severity of the risk running along the vertical axis and the likelihood running across the horizontal axis. 

For example, the severity can be qualitatively classified from very low to disastrous. Specific Severity class descriptions might include:

Likelihood can be qualitatively classified from very low to very high depending on the anticipated likelihood of the risk. Descriptions for likelihood classifications might look like the following:

Each identified risk is then assessed through the 5 x 5 matrix and a risk score is applied. As an example, the potential risk associated with a small fire readily controlled by a trained employee using a nearby fire extinguisher might be assessed with three “risk points” (Very Low Severity (1) x Medium Likelihood (3)). The higher the risk score, the higher priority of the risk.

Once the team has identified the site’s risks and assessed them using a severity-likelihood matrix or similar, the risks are prioritized. The risks that scored higher will become the focus for the next component of the risk prevention process, selecting appropriate risk controls to prevent or mitigate emergencies.

Selecting and Applying Risk Controls

The Hierarchy of Control is an EHS method that supports the process of selecting appropriate measures to effectively control risks. The Hierarchy of Control includes five levels of control, from most effective (elimination) to least effective (Personal Protective Equipment or PPE):

Let’s take parts cleaner solvents as an example. The risks associated with parts cleaner solvents might include:

  • Fire stemming from the flammability or combustibility of the solvent
  • Employee health impacts associated with exposure to the solvent
  • Environmental impacts associated with the disposal of spent solvent

Then using our Hierarchy of Control tool, we might consider different levels of control:

The control selected will depend on any number of site-specific factors, but the general rule is to pursue elimination as it is the one option that will prevent the risk of related emergencies. 

While risk elimination is highly desired, it can often be difficult to achieve in practice. This leads to selecting and implementing one or more of the alternative control levels to reduce but not eliminate the residual risk. 

As an example, to lower the risk of fire-related emergencies three controls could be applied. The first control could be to use a less flammable or less combustible cleaning solvent as a substitution. The second control could be to retrofit a lid with a fusible link. Or for the third control, procedures and training can be improved to reduce the risk of both fire and medical-related emergencies. As controls are applied, you can track progress in the facility with compliance checklists or an accident reporting app.

Emergency preparedness starts with prevention and planning

Risk prevention requires identifying the risks present, determining their related priority through the severity-likelihood matrix, and establishing a list of controls using the hierarchy of control. Having an emergency preparedness app is a great alternative to EHS Software. The ReadyKey platform makes it easy to customize your Ready App to support emergency prevention or other EHS compliance practices. 

Even with modern risk prevention tools like a ready app in place, residual risks can still remain, so emergency planning is the next step. Check out the next post in this three-part blog series to find out more. 

About the Author

Paul Ahnberg shares his emergency prevention, readiness, and response expertise gained from 32 years of EHS experience working with multiple industries and manufacturing facilities. Beginning with facility EHS Manager roles, Paul acquired and applied the technical expertise and communication skills needed to lead OSHA 1910.38 and OSHA 1910.120 (HAZWOPER) compliant and effective all-hazard facility emergency operations and coordination with outside First Responders. 

In subsequent corporate Division and Sector roles, Paul led Division-wide, multi-facility emergency readiness and response activities. And later provided strategic thought leadership and technical oversight for dozens of business Sector facilities across North America. This includes the introduction and successful rollout of an effective Ready App to help facilities ensure safe and effective emergency readiness and response actions.

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