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Integrated safety, health and environmental management: An introduction
Integrated safety, health and environmental management: An introduction

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1 Safety, health and environmental management – a risky business!

While views on management differ, Safety, Health and Environmental (SHE) management is merely a subset of management to which the same generalities apply. Indeed, at the end of this free course we will see indications of the integrating concepts being promoted by organisations. However, for the present we can translate the key actions of management into:

  • Plan – anticipate problems before they occur, and plan for prevention rather than remedying problems. A hierarchical approach is fundamental in both health and safety as well as environmental protection, and the root cause of problems should be addressed at source.

  • Organise – work through the co-ordinated actions of everyone.

  • Integrate – SHE management is a multidisciplinary area embracing scientific, engineering, social and political issues. No individual can be expert in all of these disciplines, but the SHE manager should be able to appreciate the different perspectives and to recognise the trade-offs that are inevitable.

  • Measure – ‘When you can measure what you are speaking about and express it in numbers, you know something about it.’ So said Lord Kelvin, the scientist after whom the Kelvin scale of temperature is named. This is a particularly important approach in SHE management in which value judgements and opinions play a role that is the equal of facts. Only by deriving measures can we understand the issues better and seek to balance one against the other. However, we must understand the data and interpret them correctly.

  • Control – When problems have been identified and possible solutions proposed, the next step is to adopt implementation and control strategies to achieve the desired outcomes. The SHE manager must be able to understand the options and identify the most appropriate ones.

Implicit in these aspects of management is the process of evaluating alternative actions and selecting the most appropriate. This element is often called risk management and is the decision-making process involving consideration of political, social, economic and engineering information with risk-related information.

So what is risk?

It is a word of such common usage that we all know its meaning.

Activity 1

Before continuing, write down your definition of risk. Risk is …

By writing your definition now you will be able to refer back to see whether your perception changes as you progress through this unit. We will meet the concept of risk in various sections and it will be dealt with from different perspectives by different authors. However, for the present, we can consider the following definitions.

First, the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary has the following definitions:


  1. Hazard, danger, exposure to mischance or peril.

  2. The chance or hazard of commercial loss, specifically in the case of insured property or goods.

Activity 2

  1. Compare your definition with the above definitions. Do they correspond?

  2. Risk is equated with hazard in this definition. Do you agree with this?

Let us now look at three other definitions of risk given by The Engineering Council (1993, p. 2):

  • Risk is the chance of an adverse event.

  • Risk is the likelihood of a hazard being realised.

  • Risk is the combination of the probability, or frequency of occurrence, of a defined hazard and the magnitude of the consequences of the occurrence.* It is therefore a measure of the likelihood of a specific undesired event and the unwanted consequences or loss.

  • *Definition in accordance with BS 4778: Section 3.1:1991 Quality Vocabulary


How do these definitions match those from the Oxford English Dictionary?


You should notice the distinction in The Engineering Council definition between hazard and risk. The more detailed definitions associate risk with chance of an event occurring in much the same way as the OED definition refers to chance of financial loss. Hazard and risk are not the same and this will be developed later. Hazard is an intrinsic property of something with the capability of causing harm, whereas risk refers to the chances of that harm occurring. Did your definitions draw out these distinctions?

It is also important to note the meaning of risk in law. The legal case R. v. Board of Trustees of the Science Museum (Court of Appeal, Criminal Division, Times Law Report, 9 March 1993) was an appeal against a conviction in 1990 under Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974. The prosecution case was that the defendants had failed to maintain their air conditioning system to a sufficient standard and thereby had exposed the public to health risks from legionnaire's disease.

Section 3(1) of the Act places a duty on an employer to:

ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health and safety.

The issue of legal concern was the interpretation of the phrase ‘exposed to risks’. The prosecution case maintained that it was not necessary to prove that members of the public had inhaled the Legionella bacterium, or even that it was present in the air. It was sufficient that there was a risk of it being there.

The Court of Appeal agreed with this interpretation, which implied ‘a possibility of danger’. Given the preventive nature of modern legislation, any view to the contrary would undermine enforcement.

‘Risk’ is not a term in major environmental legislation (specifically the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and water legislation), but the above ruling is consistent with that in the case of National Rivers Authority v. Egger UK Ltd from 1992. In that case the Court held that ‘polluting’ matter in water legislation implies a discharge capable of causing harm, but it is not necessary to prove that harm actually occurred. Similarly, in HM Inspectorate of Pollution v. Drum Laundry Services (June 1994), concerning a breach in the integrity of a bund surrounding a drum storage area, HMIP did not have to prove that environmental damage had occurred. It was sufficient that there had been a contravention of the authorisation conditions with the potential to cause harm.

So, any hazard may present a range of risk scenarios:

  • risk to the health and safety of people at any level from stress, through physical injury to death;

  • a risk of harm to the environment, including effects on plants, animals, materials and the environment itself in terms of climate etc. (e.g. global warming);

  • a risk to the activity itself in terms of damage to equipment, delays or loss of production.

All three scenarios have a common element of financial loss associated with them, such as through compensation claims, fines after prosecutions under legal regulations, or economic losses from failing to meet contractual obligations to customers.

You may come across the ‘system boundary’ concept. It comes up, for example, in the context of issues such as energy analysis and life-cycle assessment. If you are familiar with these concepts you will recognise the importance of defining how far one should extend the boundary of study. Figure 1 represents the range of risk scenarios within system boundaries. You will see spatial dimensions of the system boundaries implicit in Figure 1 in practical contexts when we review several incidents later.

Risks to various systems
Figure 1 Risks to various systems

A different approach considers system boundaries in three dimensions. While the traditional health and safety focus is on workplace and similar local issues, introducing the environmental element widens the focus considerably such that the spatial dimension extends to the global scale. The other dimensions probably change very little. For example, there has long been concern about the long-term health issues of workplace as well as environmental contaminants. On the three-dimensional system in Figure 2 we have illustrated several events ranging from the international and long-term impact of the incident at the nuclear power station at Chernobyl, with its implications for many people, through the medium-term impact of an earthquake such as that in Japan in 1995, to the relatively short-term effect of annoyance to an individual by loud noise.

Dimensions of safety, health and environmental concerns
Figure 2 Dimensions of safety, health and environmental concerns

There are also uncertainties associated with any placing within the boxes in Figure 2. For example, asbestos has long been used to great advantage in fire protection, so many people have gained from its use. However, as its health implications became more and more apparent, the numbers of losers increased and certainly the time scales increased. In October 1995 a High Court ruled for the first time that compensation was payable to those suffering harm by living or playing as children close to an asbestos plant. Previous cases covered only those working at the plant. The judge ruled that from 1933 onwards, when the claimants were living in the area, the defendants must have known of the dangers to them of the asbestos dust, and had taken no reasonable steps to reduce or prevent the emissions. The liability related specifically to mesothelioma, a form of cancer of which the only known cause is asbestos. You might also like to consider other incidents, such as aircraft or ferry disasters, and where they should be placed on Figure 2. Your views may differ from ours, but the main point is to make you think about the implications of such incidents over the various dimensions.

The perspective represented in Figure 2 suggests that a wide variety of issues and examples could be included in this unit. Unfortunately, constraints on your study time and the size of this unit dictate that we can deal with only a limited range of issues. However, the intention is that many of the skills and much of the knowledge will be transferable to dealing with other SHE problems and issues.