Safety management - SAFE steps

The four key safety management steps are easy to remember because they spell SAFE:

  • See it
  • Assess it
  • Fix it
  • Evaluate it

These steps are a simple way of expressing the principles used in workplaces to manage health and safety, hazard identification, risk assessment, risk control and reviewing the effectiveness of the controls

Using the SAFE Steps 1 - See it

See the hazards in the workplace. A hazard is anything that has the potential to cause harm.

Health and safety hazards exist in all workplaces. For example, a badly frayed electrical cord is a hazard. Hazard identification means finding all potential hazards, including hazards that arise from the way that the work is done, and recording them.

When spotting hazards it’s important to use all the senses (look, listen, smell, etc) and means such as inspections, consultation with workers, supervisors, health and safety representatives and looking at data such as injury reports.

Safe Work Australia website, unions, industry associations, insurers and other similar workplaces are also useful when identifying issues.

Once a hazard to health and safety has been identified, the risk associated with that hazard must be examined. For example, the risk associated with a badly frayed electrical cord is electric shock or electrocution.

Using the SAFE Steps 2 - Assess it

When a hazard is spotted the potential risk of harm needs to be assessed by asking:

  • how likely is it that the hazard will cause harm to the health and/or safety of anyone? and,
  • how badly could someone be hurt by the hazard?

When assessing which hazards are most likely to cause serious harm consultation with supervisors, workers and health and safety representatives is useful and necessary. Manuals, workplace data, insurers, other workplaces and the Safe Work Australia website are also useful when assessing risks.

A simple risk matrix, which cross references likelihood and impact, enables risk to be assessed against these two factors and identified as a:

  • critical risk;
  • high risk;
  • moderate risk;
  • low risk; or,
  • very low risk.

Example risk matrix

RareUnlikelyPossibleLikely Almost certain
Impact Moderate Moderate High Critical Critical
Low Moderate Moderate High Critical
Low Moderate Moderate Moderate High
Very low Low Moderate Moderate Moderate
Very low Very low Low Low Moderate

Using the SAFE Steps 3 - Fix it (Hierarchy of control)

Having established the relative importance of dealing with the identified risk, it is the responsibility of the person conducting the business or undertaking to eliminate or manage the risk.

The best way to fix a hazard is to eliminate it. If elimination is not possible, then the hazard may be reduced using the 'hierarchy of control'. The hierarchy of control ranks possible control measures in decreasing order of effectiveness.

Control measures should always aim as high in the list as practicable. Often more than one control measure should be used to reduce the exposure to hazards.

Elimination - The elimination of a hazard is a 100% effective control measure and therefore whenever possible, the hazardous item or substance or work practice should be removed. Examples include the proper disposal of redundant items of equipment that contain substances such as asbestos or the removal of excess quantities of chemicals accumulated in a laboratory over time.

Substitution - The effectiveness of this form of control is wholly dependent on the choice of replacement. Substitution is the use of a less hazardous thing, substance or work practice. Examples include the replacement of solvent based printing inks with water based ones, of asbestos insulation or fire proofing with synthetic fibres or the use of titanium dioxide white pigment instead of lead white.

Isolation - Separate workers and/or others not involved in the activity or work areas by marking the hazardous area, fitting screens or putting up safety barriers. Examples include placing a particular piece of machinery in a place where only trained staff are required to interact with it or using welding screens.

Engineering - The effectiveness of engineering controls is generally around 70-90%. Safe guards can be added by modifying tools or equipment or fitting guards to machinery or equipment. Examples include the installation of machine guards on hazardous equipment, the provision of local exhaust ventilation over a process area releasing noxious fumes or fitting a muffler on a noisy exhaust pipe.

Administration - The effectiveness of administration controls generally ranges from 10-50%. Administration controls are generally highly dependent on worker behaviour and typically require significant resources to be maintained over long periods of time. Administration involves implementing safety rules or work procedures to reduce the risk of injury or harm. Examples include training and education, job rotation to share the load created by a demanding task or tasks, planning, scheduling certain jobs outside normal working hours to reduce general exposure, early reporting of signs and symptoms, instructions and warnings.

Personal protective equipment - Although generally no more than 20% effective, personal protective equipment must be used if risks are still present after other controls have been applied, or to increase protection. Examples include safety glasses and gloves when handling hazardous chemicals, a safety helmet on a construction site, earmuffs, earplugs, respiratory protection and aprons.

Risks assessed as 'critical' or 'high' could potentially cause serious harm or death and therefore they must be corrected urgently. Documented control plans with priorities, responsibilities and completion dates may need to be developed.

A good plan of action often includes a mixture of actions such as:

  • priority and quick attention to hazards associated with 'high' or 'critical' risks;
  • implementing a few inexpensive or easy improvements that can be done quickly, perhaps as a temporary solution until more reliable controls are in place;
  • implementing long term solutions to those risks most likely to cause accidents or ill health;
  • arranging training for workers on the main risks that remain and how they are to be controlled; and,
  • regularly checking to make sure that the control measures stay in place, and clear responsibilities of who will lead on what action, and by when.

Using the SAFE Steps 4 - Evaluate It

Evaluate means checking how well the hazard is controlled and whether any new hazards have been created by the changes.

Whichever method of controlling the hazard is determined, it is essential that an evaluation of its impact on the use of the equipment, substance, system or environment is carried out to ensure that the control has not contributed to the existing hazard or introduced any new hazards into the workplace. While this is an obvious consideration when selecting a control, problems may not become apparent until later.

It is also important to check how effective the controls are after they have been in place for a period of time. It is possible that the remaining risk (residual risk) is still unacceptable and a better solution is needed.

Hazard identification, risk assessment, control and evaluation are ongoing processes. The process should be undertaken when the existing process was done some time ago and is potentially out of date or no longer valid. It should also be undertaken whenever there is a change to the workplace, including changed work systems, tools, machinery or equipment.

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