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Prioritizing and Managing Hazards

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A safety officer discusses the outcome of the safety assessment with the incident commander. (Photo and images by author.)

Scenario: You have been assigned to serve as the safety officer during a technical rescue involving an individual trapped in a sand silo. While you have been trained as an incident safety officer and a rescue technician and are aware of standard practices, you are required to develop and document a risk assessment that prioritizes risks based on the operations.

The Priority Ladder

While responders are often able to use experience and recognition primed decision making in developing strategies and tactics for responding to incidents, the ability to prioritize risk and hazard is critical to developing a realistic risk-benefit assessment and strategies for mitigating threats to responders, victims, and the public. The priority ladder is one method for determining the level of risk being proposed for implementation. The priority ladder uses a set of yes or no questions and examines personnel, equipment, and impact of failure to identify the potential impact of the incident.

Here is an example based on the above scenario. In this example, we must answer the following questions:

  • Is the incident high risk? Yes.
  • Are we are using trained and experienced personnel? Yes.
  • Are they fatigued? No.
  • Are they lacking the needed equipment? No.

The answers to these questions result in a “four” or “moderate risk” rank. However, if the same personnel were performing the same operation with little training, being tired, and needing equipment, then the score would be a “two” or “high risk” rank.

The Priority Cross

The priority cross allows safety officers to identify operations that are most hazardous and in in need of mitigation measures. The priority cross simply assigns a point value based on two factors: loss potential and preventable nature of the task. The safety officer simply answers the questions yes or no and, based on the answers, a rating point is assigned. Scores of three and four have the greatest potential for life impact with scores of one and two having the greatest potential for mitigation and prevention.

In the example in the scenario, an entry team is going to be working in the silo in an effort to clear a space around the trapped worker, insert a protective sleeve around him, and begin the process of sand removal and patient extrication. There is great loss potential from shifting sand and the danger of engulfment; however, there are actions that can be taken to prevent some of the risk. As a result, the operation would be rated as a one, and efforts to mitigate risk should be taken.

ICS Forms 215A and 215A-CG

The ICS 215A form is available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and is designed to be developed alongside the Operational Planning Worksheet (ICS form 215). For each operational area identified on the Operational Planning Worksheet, the safety officer is to identify the risks associated with the operation and identify measures to mitigate those risks. This is a very basic tool and requires that the safety officer be familiar with the proposed operations, hazards, and means to mitigate threats in the operational environment.

The ICS 215A-CG was developed by the United States Coast Guard and provides more detail than FEMA ICS 215A. The ICS 215A-CG is designed to be completed alongside, and partially mirrors, ICS form 215. Beginning in block five, the forms begin to diverge. Block five allows the safety officer to identify benefit to be gained by the operation. This will prove critical when developing a full risk-benefit analysis. Block six allows the safety officer to list any anticipated safety hazards and block seven provides the mitigation strategies to be implemented to reduce the hazard of the operation.

Operational Risk Management Key

 

1

2

3

4

5

Severity

Slight

Minimal

Significant

Major

Catastrophic

Probability

Remote

Unlikely

50/50

>50

Very Likely

Exposure

Below Average

Average

Above Average

Great

N/A

GAR Scale
 

1-19

20-39

40-59

60-79

80-100

Risk

Slight

Possible

Substantial

High

Very High

Color

Green

Amber

Red

Red

Red

Action

Probably Acceptable

Attention Needed

Correction Required

Immediate Correction

Discontinue/ Stop

Along the bottom of the form is an operational risk management key. This key allows the safety officer to assign a numerical score along three areas: severity of a safety occurrence, probability of an occurrence, and exposure. These scores are then multiplied to develop a composite score. The composite score is then compared to the GAR (green, amber, red) scale to determine if the operation can take place or additional mitigation is required.

Block eight allows the safety officer to document the operational risk management scores. Scores in the red area require additional mitigation strategies to lower the risk profile.

In the example given in the scenario, using the GAR model entry into the sand pit is scored as follows:

  • Severity: 3.
  • Probability: 3.
  • Exposure: 4.
  • GAR Score: 3 x 3 x 4 = 36.

A score of 36 places the operation on the high end of the amber portion of the GAR scale. The safety officer may need to implement additional risk-management strategies to bring the score down.

The Priority Cube/Triangle

The priority cube or triangle assigns numerical scores based on three factors: probability, preventability, and damage. The scores range from one to three with one being the worst/most severe score. The scores are then added together to develop a composite score for each activity that is occurring in the operation. In the example in the scenario, where entry is being made into a sand pit, a protective device is being inserted to protect the trapped worker, sand is being removed, and the victim is being removed, four separate scores would be developed, reflecting the four operations that will be taking place.

The Risk Assessment Code

Mishap Probability

Hazard Severity

 

A

B

C

D

I

1

1

2

3

II

1

2

3

4

III

2

3

4

5

IV

3

4

5

5

Hazard Severity

I = Catastrophic

II = Critical

III = Marginal

IV = Negligible

Mishap Probability

A = Likely to occur immediately or soon

B = Probably will occur in time

C = May occur in time

D = Unlikely to occur

Results

1 = Critical 2 = Serious 3 = Moderate 4 = Minor 5 = Negligible

The Risk Assessment Code

The risk assessment code uses the odds that a mishap will occur and the severity of the hazard to develop a five-point rating scale. The rating scale is designed to identify areas of critical weakness in the operation and, like the priority cube/triangle, is designed to be used for each task during the tactical operation. To use the risk assessment code, the safety officer rates the two components and identifies where each component lines up along the X and Y axis. Next, the safety officer identifies where the two lines meet and the risk score is in the box indicated.

Identify and Classify

The safety officer should be familiar with various methods for identifying and classifying risk, prioritizing hazards, and ensuring that hazard mitigation is addressed as part of a comprehensive safety process. The ability to use several, or all, of the methods will allow the safety officer to address risk management using a variety of validated and accepted methods.

When combined with training and experience, these tools improve the ability of the safety officer to control hazards and ensure the safety of all responders at the emergency incident. While the methods described are applicable to the emergency incident, they may also be adapted for all-hazards planning including hazardous materials facility planning, community risk assessment, and hazard mitigation planning.

Pennwell