As the host city of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) Safety 2013 conference, Las Vegas was the perfect backdrop for a presentation on predicting the probability of a workplace accident.

Victor J. Sordillo, PE, CSP, a VP at Chubb Group of Insurances Companies, discussed the human factors that go into the probability of a workplace accident. He called numbers “often misleading” and acknowledged that determining probability is not always intuitive.

“In safety, if probability was perfect, we could predict [for example] that one in 500 people would experience a back injury on the job,” he said. “But what you have in your operations is you have all the human factors. We have to reduce those probabilities. I can’t tolerate one in 500 to have a back injury. We have to do something to prevent it.”

The measure of predictability, Sordillo continued, is based on reducing the probabilities we’re aware of and making them manageable. For example, the odds of an individual losing his life in a car accident is one in 4 million. But over a lifetime of 50,000 trips, that’s about a 1.2 percent chance of losing your life. A company that sends out a fleet of 20 vehicles at once is approaching that 1.2 percent more quickly, so it’s imperative to implement safe driving practices.

Risk Tolerance and Risk Intelligence

Someone who is risk tolerant is a risk taker. Someone with risk intelligence can clearly and accurately predict the probability of an accident. While athletes and bomb squad professionals might need to have a higher tolerance for risk, certain other professions – such as roofers, electricians, doctors and pilots – would not be well served to have high risk tolerance.

When it comes to safety, EHS professionals can reduce the probability of injuries by eliminating and controlling exposure to hazards. If this is not possible in all cases, EHS leaders can provide training or personal protective equipment, reinforce safety messages and demonstrate by example.

“We really need to look closely at everything in our facilities because all the information does not reflect the unique situations in our environments. Not all facilities or people or operations are created equally, but we can make ours better than equal by focusing on those hazards, behaviors and conditions to reduce the losses of what’s within our control,” Sordillo said.

Sordillo sums up what safety professionals must do in promulgating a strong safety culture and positive safety attitudes among workers by comparing safety to slot machines: The bells ring loudly, and an excited crowd might surround a winner. That’s what a good safety culture should look like, too. “Those are the kinds of things we need to do to reduce accidents,” Sordillo said.