Launch of the Risk Assessment Institute at Safety 2013 in Las Vegas.

PS Asks Dave Walline, Dee Woodhull of the Risk Assessment Institute

PS: Tell us about your professional backgrounds and your positions on ASSE’s Risk Assessment Committee.

Dave: In my experience, I’ve seen the real value risk assessment plays in preventing injuries and illnesses. I am honored to chair the Risk Assessment Committee and to be supporting ASSE in this new, important direction for our members. ASSE, along with our committee, is dedicated to making the Risk Assessment Institute a great knowledge resource center and helping advance SH&E professionals in their role and work now, and in the years to come.

Dee: I have occupational safety and health experiences in many different sectors, and I’ve had a lot of experience in identifying and assessing risks of all different types trying to help prevent injuries and illnesses in the workplace. Being on this Risk Assessment Committee is really an honor but it’s also an opportunity to bring some of the experience and insights that I’ve gained over the years to help the profession and the members of the profession understand how to do risk assessment and why it is important.

PS: The Risk Assessment Institute was unveiled at Safety 2013. Why was it so important to establish this group within ASSE?

Dave: Since its founding in 1911, ASSE and its membership can be very proud of the work and accomplishments that have taken place in protecting people, property and the environment. However, the sobering fact remains that both within the U.S, and worldwide tragic events continue to be reported, bringing renewed attention that uncontrolled risk is ever present in workplaces. We’ve hit a plateau and we have to reinvent our profession.

I believe the greatest opportunity presented to ASSE and the institute going forward is to enable SH&E professionals and the business communities they operate within to join together in assessing and managing risk in advance of reported injuries or catastrophic events. This means the SH&E professional must engage in and hold new, meaningful, profound discussions with business owners and leaders around risk that is present within operations yet cannot be seen or acted upon through traditional means such as lagging injury rates or compliance assurance alone.

Leaders today are looking and waiting for SH&E leaders to step up and advise them on workplace risks that must be acted on before loss of life or property. SH&E professionals of today and tomorrow who lead in this manner will be highly valued and respected within their organizations by making the case that risk management is the cornerstone of EHS excellence which drives overall business success.

PS: Tell us more about the institute and its objectives.

Dave: The overall objective of the institute is to bring risk assessment to the forefront of the SH&E profession, provide training and resources to professionals worldwide to leverage their competency and value to the organizations they serve in, and to collaborate with risk based stakeholders globally in reducing the risk profiles of workplaces and organizations. 

PS: What are some of the institute’s specific goals?

Dee: The committee has been working hard to get the website populated and filled with useful information. We are focused on helping SH&E professionals understand what is available to them in terms of types of risk assessment techniques and its significance in preventing injuries and illnesses. The website is an outreach mechanism that contains a lot of information about the institute and in the future it will have research documents, scholarly articles, best practices, information about training and other resources for risk assessment.

The institute’s overall goal is to continually improve the processes by which risk assessment is conducted and to broaden the knowledge of practitioners in risk assessment. We’re very ambitious in what we want to achieve and I think we will be able to make a difference in prevention of injuries and illnesses through this effort.

PS: Following its debut, what’s next for the institute? What initiatives are underway?

Dave: Several things are in the works for the institute. The creation of our new website has been a great first step. I recommend members visit to take advantage of the resources we have established. A member survey, some training materials and some simple risk assessment tools are forthcoming before year-end. The Risk Assessment Institute and Risk Assessment Committee are committed to providing real-world examples and tools to it members. Removing complexity and building SH&E professional confidence in risk assessment will be key to our success.

PS: How will the Risk Assessment Institute benefit ASSE members and the overall SH&E community? What unique services or resources will it offer?

Dave: When you look at many SH&E job descriptions that employers or companies post today, you see traditional and even outdated job requirements such as claims management, program development, compliance audits, compiling lagging injury statistics, enforcement and awareness training. These were the same job duties employers posted in the 1970s. As SH&E professionals, we own this.

I see the future job description for SH&E professionals as employers and organizations looking for individuals who have proven experience and competency in risk assessment and risk management, prevention through design (PTD), management of change, risk-based (precursor) metric development, risk-based management systems and serious injury/fatal prevention techniques. The institute’s short- and long-term goal is to afford SH&E professionals the opportunity to gain these needed competencies through the institute and to be recognized for this expertise. The safety professional of today and in the future must look very different than that of the past. The Risk Assessment Committee has identified a list of 17 core competencies that all SH&E professionals should develop and obtain over a career. We will be developing these and providing training venues to our members over the next few years.

PS: Why should SH&E professionals be interested in the Risk Assessment Institute?

Dave: The most common and best definition of safety I have seen is this: Freedom from unacceptable risk. This term and definition can be found on our website.

As SH&E professionals, we must begin to use a new common language. Compliance and injury rates alone just don’t cut it any longer. We must be defining and having new conversations within our organizations on topics such as acceptable level of risk, acceptable level of control, Top 5 risks, and more. The Risk Assessment Institute will be a great enabler and rest stop for SH&E professionals to get the latest information on risk communication and risk metrics, and will provide the opportunity to read case studies and personal stories about SH&E professionals who are driving the risk conversation into their conversations and business decision-making.

PS: In what ways can safety professionals contribute to the institute?

Dee: Safety professionals can contribute to the institute by offering up their best practices in risk assessment, their thoughts and ideas on how to bring risk assessment to the forefront in the minds of other professionals, and ideas on how to make sure it is a top priority for people in the profession. People from all walks of the safety profession—and the industrial hygiene and environmental professions for that matter— are welcome to provide what is effective for them.

Dave: I believe the institute will grow and advance at the pace our SH&E professionals wish it to. That means the institute is looking for assistance, tools and ideas to advance our vision and goals. Shortly, our website will host a blog and links where members can share information or express interest in helping build on the work that has been developed and posted to date. I hope SH&E professionals see the institute as their institute to help drive the risk focus worldwide.

PS: Anything else you would like to add?

Dave: If not done so to date, I challenge all SH&E professionals to build their risk assessment knowledge and skill. I personally have found this journey to be personally rewarding, and it has raised my value and benefit to my organization and employees. Risk assessment should not and does not have to be complicated or complex to be effective. The Risk Assessment Institute is a great place to learn more and affords visitors to our website with some tools to get into positive action. Risk assessment and risk management is the future of ASSE and our profession.   

Dee: We have several highly experienced professionals on the committee who are very dedicated to making this a success. All committee members are top-notch SH&E professionals who contribute quite a lot. Risk assessment is really the key to prevention, because if you don’t understand the risks and the causes behind them and the reasons they’re there and the adequate control methods that are available you don’t have safety and health.


Dave Walline, CSP, is global safety leader for Owens Corning, Toledo, OH. Over the last 40 years, he has held various roles in occupational safety and health and has contributed to multiple committees to improve SH&E practices including his current role as chair of ASSE’s Risk Assessment Institute. Walline works with a special focus in prevention through design (PTD), risk assessment, serious injury prevention and SH&E talent development, and has years of experience implementing global risk assessment and PTD processes and training programs within the organizations in which he has worked.

Dee Woodhull, CSP, CIH, is a senior consultant with Mercer HSE Networks (formerly ORC Worldwide) in Washington, DC. She works as a consultant advising large corporations on improving occupational safety and health programs, helping them discover best practices while keeping them up-to-date with the regulatory developments and providing interpretations of regulatory requirements. Woodhull, who began her career more than 35 years ago as an industrial hygienist with OSHA, has had experience in identifying and assessing risks of all different types trying to help to prevent injuries and illnesses in the workplace. She is currently a board member of ASSE’s Risk Assessment Institute.