Machine Design

Why risk a hazard analysis?

I just read your column on "How Juries View Hazard Analysis.

" What is your opinion of manufacturers that don't conduct a hazard analysis because they are afraid the analysis itself will be used against them? I have worked for at least two companies that have this view.

The biggest fear is that a possible hazard may be unearthed during a brainstorming session and be discounted as being too remote a possibility. Then, sure enough, someone gets injured by the ignored hazard. The brainstorm documentation is used against the manufacturer in court. I understand the need for hazard analysis, but how safe is safe enough? The gray area between being an unsafe design and improper use needs to be more clearly defined.
—Jim C.

To start with, juries are not predictable. Now to expand on your question, and based upon my experience all over the country, juries view the lack of a hazard analysis as demonstrating a lack of concern for safety. When a hazard analysis takes place, it is critical that complete documentation is part of the product file.

A hazard analysis does include the brainstorming that you describe. But the second step is to analyze the hazards identified. It is important to look at the past experience of similar products, both yours and your competitors. Approach the ANSI committee members who are on the ANSI committee that writes standards for products similar to yours. And if you still have questions, find an attorney who can question the National Trial Lawyers Association (an organization of plaintiff attorneys) and another attorney who can question the national organization for defense attorneys.

Normally you shouldn't have to go to such great lengths. But if you question a hazard you have identified in your hazard analysis, this is a good way to proceed. Then, after identifying the hazards you believe are "reasonably foreseeable," try to address them with redesign or guarding. It is my opinion that addressing serious hazards with warnings and instructions is leaving your company wide open for the problem you have identified.

It has been my experience that juries are very receptive to a company that has performed a good hazard analysis and that has thoroughly documented it. They view the company as a responsible and caring organization.

A good example is in the auto industry. It is true that when automakers lose they can lose big. But they don't lose many lawsuits considering the vast number thrown at them. Automakers and many other large companies such as 3M have a reputation for thorough and complete documentation supporting their decisions. Plaintiff attorneys, for the most part, are afraid to go after them. When they do, they know they are in for a very difficult and very expensive ordeal, where the plaintiff attorney will have to spend a great deal of money trying to disprove the defendant's hazard analysis.

is a registered professional engineer and a Certified Safety Professional involved in forensic engineering since 1972. Got a question about safety? You can reach Lanny at [email protected].

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