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Safety and Security

Frankie Wood-Black,  Safety Expert
Frankie Wood-Black, Safety Expert

In today’s world, the ideas of safety and security may seem synonymous. Think of safety features in your car.  Newer vehicles have “safety” features such as automatic door locks when the car starts in motion, tracking services that can be triggered by the release of the airbag or the push of a button, etc. but these are security features as well.  The workplace has also incorporated these dual features, like card key access to the campus or specific rooms like laboratories or storerooms.  Initially, card key access was a means of personnel monitoring, i.e., determining the location of people in the case of an emergency, but now they have a myriad of uses.  Card keys restrict access to spaces where specialized training is required, or special precautions must be taken.  Thus, the card keys were initially a safety feature and still are, they have morphed into a security one as well.

The definition of security is “the state of being free from danger or threat,” while safety is defined as “the condition of being protected from harm or other non-desirable outcomes.”  We implement security features in order to be safe, much like the card key access to restricted areas.  The idea being that only those with proper training and an understanding of the hazards in the area should be allowed to enter, thus keeping individuals without the proper training “safe” from those hazards.  But, we have to be aware that sometimes those security features have a downside, and create some unanticipated hazards or safety concerns.

Here is a simple example that almost everyone has encountered, child locks or caps.  What happens if you need to access that cabinet in an emergency or access the medicine in the bottle instantaneously?  The lock or the cap can become an impediment.  Similarly, plant “fail-safes,” if not thought through, can be potentially dangerous, i.e., if the power goes out and the key card access doors lock, can you exit the room or the building?  Password protected doors, programs, phones, are other examples of security features that may become a safety issue during an emergency. 

Our lives are now filled with numerous security/safety features to keep our person and our critical information “safe.”  But, there are hidden hazards and challenges associated with those features that everyone needs to understand in the event of an emergency or failure.  For example, what happens if you have employed two-step verification using a cellphone and your cellphone is no longer accessible?  This same type of question can be asked for control systems on equipment, safety systems on cars, and now we have to think about “autonomous” equipment.  What are the possible consequences of the security system if something out of the ordinary happens?

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.

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