20 Tough Questions For the Fire Chief: Are You Prepared To Answer Them? - Question 19

This is truly a complex question. As we have done in previous articles, let’s break this question down into its fundamental issues. To start, we tackle the issue of how your fire department should evaluate and mitigate risk. In other words, how can...


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In one way or another, any of these losses can devastate the organization in terms of cost, productivity, morale and stature. Following the identification of a particular risk and evaluating the probability and consequence of its occurrence, the use of technology, process and people as control measures helps risk managers identify strategies to reduce the likelihood of occurrence. These are also sometimes referred to as engineering, administrative and personnel controls. Let’s look at each and then apply them to a known risk such as vehicle accidents.

• Technology (engineering) controls – These refer to mechanisms that are used to control a hazard, often using technology as its base. For example, we use passive- and active-restraint technology as controls in reducing the risk of injury from vehicle accidents. The vehicle design incorporates the restraint design into the vehicle. Through testing and experience, we have determined this is an effective or correct control measure and that, if used, will reduce injury and death to occupants during vehicle crashes.

• Process (administrative) controls – These involve the management of risk through written and practiced guidelines. Frequent audits to ensure compliance and workability are important to address shortcomings in individual application of work rules. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is also considered a process control in that through work rules we require seatbelts to be worn in moving vehicles.

• People (personnel) controls – These are dependent on initial and on-going education and training of those performing a task. Practical experience tells us that of the three control areas (technology, process and people), modifying behaviors through education and training is often the most complex and challenging. Correctly choosing people for the assignment is vital since not all of us share or are proficient with the same skill sets. Increasing awareness through personnel meetings, stating expectations and offering education is a proven strategy for successful risk reduction. In our safe-driving example, assessing skills related to driving larger apparatus as well as having a defined, comprehensive and documented driver education and qualification program is a good first step in reducing future litigation and liability. These actions coupled with safe-driving guidelines, continuing driver education and annual driver re-qualification requirements enhance your risk-management program.

Two other risk-control areas include the elimination of the problematic area that may increase risk potential and by substitution. Substitution requires that we find a comparable replacement for the identified risk area. In our example, perhaps we prevent certain individuals from driving large apparatus due to poor eyesight or other validated medical conditions or eliminate certain driving practices. Substitution may involve finding an alternative to sending a large apparatus to certain types of incidents where a smaller utility type vehicle would suffice – and reduce risk.

 

Guidelines available

National consensus standards-setting organizations such as the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) offer guidelines on adopting a risk-management plan for fire departments. Standards such as NFPA 1250, Recommended Practice in Fire and Emergency Service Organization Risk Management, and NFPA 1500, Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program, offer insight into developing and managing an effective risk-management program.

Managing community risk is our mission. The mission of a fire department also includes managing internal or organizational risks associated with accomplishing its primary calling. When we efficiently manage our internal exposures, we become more effective to those we serve.