ASSEIn an exclusive with ISHN magazine, outgoing ASSE President Rick Pollock explains the profession’s expanding focus on risk and myths about human performance, as well as other issues.


“ASSE now has, and will into the future, have a much greater focus on risk.  

“Clearly, any true business leader understands the concept of risk as it applies to investment and decision making. Business is about understanding enterprise risk and how investment is always at risk of loss or under performance.

“True safety is not about compliance with regulations, though with noncompliance there is an increase in business and financial risk. True safety is about controlling hazards in the context of work so that it allows the inevitable errors that will occur to result in zero harm. Or as Fred Manuele has written, creating work to be error tolerant, and not error provocative with negative results.

“The focus on culture over the past several years hasn't been misguided, but relies on the maturity of the organization to grasp the approach. Far more are focusing on the employee and their behavior as the problem.


“With the culture focus, we have been saying that management and the face of leadership plays a more important role. However, the fundamental problem lies in the fact that SH&E professionals do not create the culture, or even the climate for safety. At best we can educate and influence, while those in control decide how to proceed. Much of this decision is based on the strategy and business model of the organization, over which SH&E has had little influence. And the thinking that truly influences the direction taken is based on the inherent business risk involved. 

Human error

“During the past couple of years I have been speaking to audiences about human error and the need to understand the prevailing myths about human performance. James Reason and Sydney Dekker have done a marvelous job of helping SH&E professionals understand the importance of work design and the overall context of work as it relates to risk heightened by inevitable human error. I think the late Dan Peterson, and now Fred Manuele, have tried to steer us away from the popular behavior-based safety approaches. They understood the importance of work design and the importance of understanding the context of work.  

“Workers error all the time, but when they error in the context of bad design the outcome can be catastrophic and fatal. Here is the progression in thinking: the systems and context approach has moved from behavior-based safety to the focus on climate and culture to systems design and organizational control. This illustrates what ASSE, NIOSH and others understand to be true.  

Prevention through design

“When we take the prevention through design approach, creating systems that integrate worker safety and health, as well as elimination of high risk, we create the hazard controls needed to eliminate or manage risk at an acceptable level. It's not about the error or mistakes of the individual worker, but how we create the work to allow for deviation and error to result in a safe outcome.

ASSE initiatives

“ASSE is pioneering a high-level approach to managing risk through the newly created Risk Assessment Institute. There are two key elements to this initiative. One is to educate the safety and health community on topics related to business risk. Thus, the increase in educational sessions at the PDC dealing with "risk." The second is to reach out to the business community through initiatives such as the Center for Safety and Health Sustainability and the new Risk Assessment Institute to help business leaders integrate safety and health risk management issues with the multitude of other business risks faced.”