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Use the Swiss Cheese Model to Fight COVID-19

Ryan Quiring Co-Founder & CEO SafetyTek
By Ryan Quiring Co-Founder & CEO, SafetyTek

In 2020, most manufacturers focused on mitigating the impact of COVID-19, but mitigation is too little too late. Many companies learned that lesson after seeing how COVID-19 outbreaks affected either their own facilities or other manufacturing firms. In 2021, more companies will redirect their efforts to prevention—the unsung hero in protecting workers against COVID-19.

One of the greatest issues manufacturers will face in 2021 is coronavirus fatigue as people tire of taking safety precautions. Unfortunately, we’ve already seen how that fatigue has already led to surges in COVID-19 infections worldwide. If they haven’t done so already, manufacturers should follow the lead of high-risk industries, such as construction, oil and gas, and other utilities. HR and safety managers in these sectors understand that long-term exposure to any potential risk leads to complacency, and they have seen how regular “safety talks” can decrease injuries by roughly 80 percent. The key is that this regular safety training must include new information to ensure that employees don’t “tune out.”

Health and safety in manufacturing prior to the pandemic wasn’t perfect, and if there is a silver lining, it’s that strategies to protect against coronavirus outbreaks will be applied to other aspects of health and safety. Self-assessment is a powerful tool manufacturers can use to improve the workplace. Today, self-reporting focuses on whether a worker may have been exposed to COVID-19. But these self-assessments could also be used, for example, to determine if a worker is too tired to operate heavy machinery and should be assigned to another task that day. Importantly, employees who self-report need to feel they’re not at risk for getting fired and that the priority is a safe work environment.

As for COVID-19, an outbreak within a company’s workforce could halt its operations for weeks with workers staying home, leaving management scrambling to deliver bad news to clients about slipping timelines, taking care of media, or attempting to locate temporary workers.

That means reducing risk is vital, but in the COVID-19 era this can be challenging—we need multiple layers of both prevention and mitigation tactics. These layers should be independent of each other, with each providing a small level of risk reduction. Layering these risk reduction methods, known as the Swiss cheese model, enables us to multiply the risk reduction factors to reduce risk to a tolerable level.

For example, if you were to implement the following four layers of risk reduction, you could reduce your risk of an outbreak by 10,000X:

  • Social distancing measures
  • Wear masks when working nearby others
  • Monitor self-assessments/questionnaires
  • Increased training during the pandemic

The power of independent layers of protection becomes apparent when we look at each of these protection layers individually. Doing only one won’t be effective, but the good news is that implementing all four is not overly complicated; together, they build a foundation of risk reduction.

Here’s the risk reduction calculation. For each procedural layer of protection, we apply the industry-standard level of risk reduction factor (RRF), 10. An RRF of 10 means that one in ten times this procedure is acted upon, it will likely fail. The next layer of protection provides another RRF of 10. The likelihood of both layers of protection failing is now 1/10 × 1/10, or an RRF of 100.

When we continue with this math for each independent layer, we come down to 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 = 10,000. This means that all layers of risk reduction will fail one in ten thousand times. And that is a robust system that may ultimately protect your workforce from an outbreak.

SafetyTek Software is a leading environment, health and safety (EHS) platform provider.

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