What is Unacceptable Risk?

During a recent webinar on fall hazard risk assessments, one of the participants asked, “What is unacceptable risk?”  It’s a very difficult question, and your perspective matters a lot when you answer it. 

The way I answered then and would answer again harkens back to a famous judgment from Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart in 1964.  He essentially said, “I can’t define pornography, but I know it when I see it.”

I would answer the question about unacceptable risk the same way.  The level of unacceptable risk may be different for each person or each organization.  But, we have all seen some hazards that just jump out at us as totally unacceptable.  It is not practical to immediately abate all fall hazards.  However, understanding and applying your resources to your highest—or most unacceptable—risks will impact overall safety, as well as employee morale. At the same time, we can use what we learn from the hazards identified to make sure the same hazards aren’t created again.

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