Why are Job Briefings and Risk Assessments Important?

When you hear the term “job briefing,” what comes to mind? Perhaps a meeting, a form to fill out or maybe even a complete waste of time? How we perceive job briefings has a huge impact on how we complete them. Per OSHA, job briefings are required to be completed before each job; however, for us to perform them effectively, it is critical that we understand the intent behind that requirement.

What Needs to be Covered?
A job briefing is intended to be used as part of the planning process to accomplish a job both safely and successfully. OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269(c)(2) requires that the following topics be covered, at minimum, during a briefing: hazards associated with the job, work procedures involved, special precautions, energy-source controls and personal protective equipment requirements. All of these elements are essential to safely plan for the work that is to take place. By design, job briefings encourage us to slow down and think about the job we are about to perform. When we take time to think, we begin to identify desired outcomes as well as elements that can contribute to undesired outcomes.

Unidentified hazards are one of the greatest contributors to undesired outcomes. Hazards are required to be covered in a job briefing, but a challenge that most of us face when it comes to hazards is actually identifying them. It’s easy to miss something we aren’t looking for, and we can’t assume that all jobs have the same hazards. So, what hazards should we be looking for and discussing during a job briefing? The simple answer is those that have the highest levels of risk. However, we don’t always assign risk to hazards, which is another challenge when it comes to successfully completing a job briefing.

Every task we complete has a level of risk associated with it. For instance, walking down a flight of stairs has risk, but most of us who can do so walk up and down stairs every day without thinking about the risk involved. So, what is risk? It is a combination of several factors but has two primary components: likelihood and severity. Likelihood essentially means the probability that a hazard will shift from a potential source of harm to an actual source of harm. Severity is the part of risk that often gets overlooked, especially when job briefings are performed. That’s most likely because, as humans, we become comfortable around hazards that haven’t had any negative impact on us. This is especially true when performing tasks that we have completed many times before; our minds perceive little to no risk because we believe there is a low likelihood of negative consequences. We can forget how high the severity could potentially be because we have never experienced it before.

Number and Extent of Briefings
In addition to the topics that must be covered, OSHA also has requirements regarding how often job briefings are to be conducted; those can be found at 1910.269(c)(3) and (c)(4). Briefings are required before each job, and additional briefings must be held if significant changes, which might affect the safety of the employees, occur during the course of work. Again, planning is the intent behind these requirements. When the scope of a job changes, it’s a reasonable assumption that other items – especially hazards – could change along with it.

Working Alone
Should an employee who is working alone be required to complete a job briefing? OSHA 1910.269(c)(5) states that an “employee working alone need not conduct a job briefing. However, the employer shall ensure that the tasks to be performed are planned as if a briefing were required.” The word “however” carries a lot of weight in this context; employees working alone must plan their jobs no differently than workers on multi-employee job sites. Job planning for a lone worker could be accomplished through a pre-job briefing with the supervisor before the job starts. 

Documentation
Most organizations require some type of documentation of job briefings although there is no mention of such a requirement in the OSHA standard. Documenting each briefing offers benefits to both the employer and the employee; among other things, when a briefing is documented, it provides the employee with a checklist for the safe planning of the work to be performed. Keep in mind, though, that simply writing something on a job briefing doesn’t necessarily mean that it happened. Far too often, paperwork is filled out and workers sign their names without discussing or planning the work they are about to start. The content of the briefing is – and should be considered – far more important than the paperwork associated with the briefing.

Summary
When work is not thoroughly planned ahead of time, the possibility of human error greatly increases. An effective job briefing enables crews to stay connected on the job site through an understanding of the job, its hazards, the necessary controls and worker responsibilities.

About the Authors: Pam Tompkins, CUSP, CSP, is president and CEO of SET Solutions LLC. She is a 40-year veteran of the electric utility industry, a founding member of the Utility Safety & Ops Leadership Network and presently serves on the USOLN executive board. Tompkins worked in the utility industry for over 20 years and has provided electric power safety consulting for the last 20 years. An OSHA-authorized instructor, she has supported utilities, contractors and other organizations operating electric power systems in designing and maintaining safety improvement methods and strategies for organizational excellence.  

Matt Edmonds, CUSP, CIT, CHST, is vice president of SET Solutions LLC. A published author with over 15 years of safety management experience, he also is an OSHA-authorized instructor for general industry and construction standards. Edmonds provides specialty safety management services for electric power organizations throughout the U.S. He has been instrumental in the development of training courses designed for electric power organizations, including OSHA 10- and 30-hour courses and SET Solutions’ popular OSHA Electric Power Standards Simplified series.

About OSHA Electric Power Standards – Simplified: Topics in this series are derived from SET Solutions’ popular OSHA electric power course offered through the Incident Prevention Institute (https://ip-institute.com). The course is designed to help learners identify standard requirements and to offer practical ways to apply the standards.

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March 19, 2021, at 1 p.m. Eastern
Visit https://ip-institute.com/osha-webinars/ for more information.

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