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Who Knows What is Safe?

The difficult part in an argument is not to defend one’s opinion but rather to know it. ~ Andre Maurois

Knowing what is safe or how safe to make a situation safe is a constant issue for those in leadership positions.  Most safety manuals have a line on the front page that says, “This manual cannot cover all work situation.  If you find a situation that the book does not cover, contact your supervisor.”  The issue of not having a safety rule for a specific situation occurs many times because the book is incomplete or no one in the company has ever performed this type of job before.  Whatever the reason for not having a safety rule, procedure, or process, someone has to come up with an answer.  The question then becomes, “Who knows what is safe?”

Sometimes during a facilitated safety discussion, one of the participants may disagree with what I am saying.   When they verbalize their differing position, I ask them to defend it, to convince me.  More often than not, that person will say, “Well, that’s my opinion.”

“What is your opinion based on?”

“Well, it is just what I think.”

“Could it be based on your experience?”


“Does your way of performing the work (based on your opinion) mitigate the risk to a point that it will guarantee nobody will get hurt?”

This conversation leads me back to the basics of hazard recognition and control.  Many participants tell me that you cannot identify all the hazards.  My answer is, “You need to identify as many as you can, evaluate each hazard, and place the best controls that reduce the risk to the lowest possible level.”  Once hazards are mitigated, the individual performing the work must ask the question, “What’s the worst that can happen now?”  If the answer is acceptable, then they become the person who knows what is safe.

Gaining knowledge, coupled with experiential training, and collaborating with experienced coworkers to reduce risk to the lowest level improves the chances of success.  To know what is safe requires knowledge, experience, and practice.  Engaging everyone on the job utilizes all the knowledge and experience available.  The best safety leaders know how to use all the resources available.  In the end, however, the person performing the work and is most likely to be injured must decide if the hazards have been properly recognized, evaluated, and controlled.

Be Safe!

Carl Potter, CSP


If you want to increase the chances that your employees will make the best decision when creating a safe workplace send me an email: so we can talk about scheduling our Hazard Recognition and Control Workshop in your workplace.

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