46 ISE Magazine | www.iise.org/ISEmagazine
Determining acceptable levels
of peril is a key role
for management
By Douglas R. Handy
by asking:
Is it worth it?
October 2020 | ISE Magazine 47
As you already know or have at least heard, there is
risk in everything we do and say throughout every
day of our lives.
There is risk in everything we eat, even if it is
healthy.” There is risk in everything we do, even
if it is deemed “safe” by someone. There is risk in
everything we say, even if we use manners and are polite. So
when is risk “too much?
Who decides when the risk is “OK” or “too high?
That is the real question that we should be asking ourselves,
our families, our co-workers, the companies we work for
and with and even our recreation activities, associations and
In every culture, there are limits, guidelines and standards.
Although these are different from culture to culture and soci-
ety to society, boundaries and limitations have been set. Con-
sequences and penalties occur when we go past the accepted
limits, and even abolishment or persona non-gratis status may
These risks take place in all aspects of our lives. In the realm
of safety, risks can take place on a different level of thinking.
Most companies provide employees with a general level of
understanding of the risks that the employees will face or be-
come exposed to. This is a general Right to Know/Hazard
Communication standard requirement as set by OSHA and
most state and company policies. From an ergonomics stand-
point, there is sometimes limited education and knowledge of
proper body positioning and/or workstation layouts.
However, then there is the question that we all must ask:
What is our risk acceptance level, from both a personal and a
company perspective?
Of course, first we must be able to recognize the risks,
and there are many effective techniques to help us and our
employees accomplish that. Second, we
then need to evaluate the risks, and again
various methods and systems can help us
better understand this. Then, regardless
of the methods, techniques and systems
used to determine or quantify these first
two steps, we get to the question of risk
acceptance levels.
To illustrate this, I have often used the
following brief demonstration for both
management and employee training and
meetings. I begin by asking, “What is
your risk acceptance level?” I then show
them a standard mousetrap, in which I
have placed a folded $1 bill, and then ask:
By a show of hands, how many of you
would you risk breaking your finger(s)
to get a $1 from a mousetrap?” explain-
ing that if they are unsuccessful they will
likely have one or more fractured finger bones and some pain.
I acknowledge the responses and thank them.
I then show them a standard mousetrap, in which I have
placed a folded $10 bill and ask: “By a show of hands, how
many of you would you risk breaking your finger(s) to get
a $10 from a mousetrap?” explaining that again if they are
unsuccessful they again will likely have one or more fractured
nger bones and some pain. I acknowledge the responses and
thank them.
Then I show them a standard (and much larger) rattrap, in
which I have place a folded $20 bill and ask: “By a show of
hands, how many of you would you risk breaking your hand
and fingers to get a $20 from a rattrap?” explaining that again
if they are unsuccessful they will likely have several fractured
hand and finger bones and significant pain. I then acknowl-
edge the responses and thank them.
This demonstration gets plenty of discussion and conversa-
tion with management and employee groups.
Some initial feedback at times from management is that the
risks our employees take are different than the mousetrap/rat-
trap demonstration. However, after discussion, it comes out
that the exact risks might be different, the principles and pro-
cesses are great analogies, as employees generally know what
they want ($1, $10 or $20), they know what the hazards are,
they know how the operations and equipment works and they
have an idea of the risks.
Risk acceptance then brings up the question of “is it worth
it?” Are the benefits of the desired results worth the risk con-
sequences or not? You could relate this to a “should I take this
shortcut or not?” mentality.
Once training and procedures are understood, the individu-
al generally makes this decision aside from management input.
There could be peer pressure, the perception that it would be
The “mousetrap test” is a way to gauge how much risk people are willing to take for a
certain reward.
by asking:
Is it worth it?
48 ISE Magazine | www.iise.org/ISEmagazine
Measuring risk by asking: Is it worth it?
faster, that I could gain incentives or
many other factors. Yet for the indi-
vidual, it comes down to their choices
and behaviors.
For management, the question and
decisions are on a different level. These
decisions could be based on any num-
ber of management factors, which may
include costs of equipment or guards,
facility or process layouts, ability to
manage operations and people, or vari-
ous other considerations. Ultimately,
management must decide on the ini-
tial “risk acceptance” levels, prior to
the employees even being involved.
The higher level of risk acceptance by
management leads to more of the de-
cisions of risks having to be made by
From a moral and personal view, one
question I often ask my management
over the years is, “Would you allow
your child or grandchild to be exposed
to this risk?” Although this is a “loaded
question,” the bottom line is that every
employee is someone’s child, grand-
child, parent or grandparent. How do
you feel about the risks in your opera-
tion if it were truly your child or grand-
Although there are scales and some
overview processes that can help guide
you on risk assessments and levels, I
have yet to see a true system or tech-
nique that fully quantifies an actual risk
acceptance level. Yet this is something
that we do on a minute-by-minute,
day-by-day and project-by-project ba-
sis as management and as individuals.
With employee injuries on the rise,
along with costs generally skyrocket-
ing, it is critical from a business stand-
point to look at this. Often a higher
upfront cost of management control of
the risk acceptance levels (like guards,
different equipment, etc.) will pay divi-
dends many times over the price if the
risk acceptance level of the employees
is high.
A few ideas on improving the risk
acceptance levels within companies,
management and employees include
Webinars focus on risk strategies
The Performance Excellence webinar series by IISE Chapter No. 1 has addressed
risk management needs in the midst of the pandemic in several recent sessions.
Recordings and downloads are available at link.iise.org/chapter1webinars. Here is
a sample:
“Risk Management and Resilience Engineering Strategies for Supply
Chains,” sponsored by Xcentric Mold & Engineering. Mike Sherwin
from the University of Pittsburgh ISE department and Jon Carmona from
the supply chain team at The Poirier Group offer insights into fresh, in-
novative ideas on how to adapt supply chains in the face of the waves of
“Restarting the Economy: Guidance on the Backside of the Disruption.
Jim Tompkins, CEO and founder of Tompkins International, shares ideas
how organizations can plan for and react to logistics issues associated with
evolving back to business under disruptive conditions.
“Rapid (AGILE) Deployment and Execution of Integrated Systems En-
gineering Principles and Methods in Times of Major Disruption.” Steve
Savoie of GM discusses a rapid deployment agile project to help re-engi-
neer production of critical care ventilators.
Business Continuity Strategies and Tactics in Periods of Major Disrup-
tion.” Tompkins and David Poirier lead a discussion of pragmatic strate-
gies and tactics to avoid disaster during the COVID-19 “Black Swan
“Navigating Your Business Through the COVID Crisis.” Strategies to
manage the pandemic landscape for survival and success.
All IISE webinars are available at iise.org/webinars.
October 2020 | ISE Magazine 49
these “3 Key Initiatives to Risk Acceptance” evaluation:
1. Company level:
Education and understanding the risk levels at top levels
Determination of budgets, processes and equipment for
2. Local and divisional management, including front-
line management:
Education and understanding the risk levels at operations
level top levels
Knowledge of equipment, work processes and worksta-
tion layouts
Determination of actual risk levels that will be accept-
3. Employee level:
Education and understanding of actual risks
Knowledge of equipment, work process and workstation
design and procedures
Review and reporting system to management on risk
level concerns for any operation
With these initiatives working in tandem, a clearer picture
of expectation and risks will allow everyone to work jointly in
getting everyones children, grandchildren, parents and grand-
parents home safely every day.
The bottom line is: What is the risk acceptance level for
your management and employees? What are the costs and
consequences? And, is it worth it?
Douglas R. Handy, is a loss prevention consultant for Liberty Mu-
tual Insurance assigned to the UPS Dedicated Team. He is one
of a handful of safety professionals worldwide to have received the
Award of Excellence” and the top Certied Safety Professional in
the world. He is responsible for consulting and training services to
the UPS Desert Mountain Districts, which covers four states, along
with assisting operations nationwide. He has provided injury and
crash prevention services to UPS for 13 years. Prior to Liberty Mu-
tual, he earned more than 27 years’ experience in environmental
health and safety management in various industries that included
program development, program management, ergonomics program
development, behavior-based safety and people leadership/manage-
ment. His industry ties include aerospace, heavy manufacturing,
truck manufacturing, nuclear and more. He has been a manager in
EHS, business, quality and production for more than 25 years. He
is an IISE member.
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