Hockey Teams and Risk Reduction or What Makes Roberto Luongo = PPE

Canucks Hockey Flag
This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Hierarchy of Controls

Special Co-Author, Tom Doyle

Last week we saw the Boston Bruins earn the Stanley Cup. I was rooting for the green, blue and white, and the ruin of my voice on Thursday was ample evidence that no amount of cheering helped. While I was watching the game with friends and colleagues, I realized that Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas were their respective team’s PPE*. Sound odd? Let me explain.

Risk Assessment and the Hierarchy of Controls

Equipment designers need to understand  OHS* risk. The only proven method for understanding risk is risk assessment. Once that is done, the next play in the game is the reduction of risks by eliminating hazards wherever possible and controlling those that remain.

Control comes in a couple of flavours:

  • Hazard modification to reduce the severity of injury, or
  • probability modification to reduce the probability of a worker coming together with the hazard.

These ideas have been formalized in the Hierarchy of Controls. Briefly, the Hierarchy starts with hazard elimination or substitution, and flows down through engineering controls, information for use, administrative controls and finally PPE. As you move down through the Hierarchy, the effectiveness and the reliability of the measures declines.

It’s important to recognize that we haven’t done a risk assessment in writing this post. This step was skipped for the purpose of this example—to apply the hierarchy correctly, you MUST start with a risk assessment!

So how does this relate to Hockey?

Hockey and the Hierarchy of Controls

Hazard Identification and Exposure to Risk

If we consider the goal as the worker – the thing we don’t want “injured”, the puck is the hazard, and the act of scoring a goal as the act of injuring a person, then the rest quickly becomes clear.

Level 1: Hazard Elimination

By definition, if we eliminate the puck, we no longer have a game. We just have a bunch of big guys skating around in cool jerseys with sticks, maybe having a fight or two, because they’re bored or just don’t know what else to do. Since we want to have a game, either to play or to watch, we have to allow the risk of injury to exist. We could call this the “intrinsic risk”, as it is the risk that exists before we add any controls.

Level 2: Hazard Substitution

The Center and the Wingers (collectively the “Forwards” or the “Offensive Line”), act as hazard “substitution”. We’ve already established that elimination of the hazard results in the loss of the intended function—no puck, no game. The forwards only let the other team have the puck on rare occasion, if they’re playing well. This is a great idea, but still a little too optimistic after all. Both teams are trying to get the puck in the opposing net and both teams have qualified to play the final game. If they fail to keep the puck beyond the other team’s blue line, or at least beyond the center line, then the next layer of protection kicks in, with the Defensive Line.

Level 3: Engineering Controls

As the puck moves down the ice, the Defensive Line engages the approaching puck, attempting to block access to the area closer to the goal. They act as a movable barrier between the net and the puck.  They will do whatever is necessary to keep the hazard from coming in contact with the net. As engineering controls, their coordination and positioning are critical in ensuring success.

The system will fail if the controls have poor:

  • positioning,
  • choice of materials (players),
  • timing, etc.

These risk controls fail regularly, so are less desirable than having the Forward Line handle Risk Control.

Level 4: Information for Use and Awareness Means

In a hockey game, the information for use is the rule book. This information tells players, coaches, and officials how the game is to be played, and what the intended use of the game should be. Activities like spearing, tripping, and blind-side checks are not permitted.

The awareness means are provided by the roar of the fans. As the puck heads for the home-team’s goal, the home fans will roar, letting the team know, if they don’t know already, that the goal is at risk from the puck. Hopefully the defensive line can react in time and get between the puck and the net.

Level 5: Administrative Controls

Information for use from the previous step is the basis for all the following controls. The team’s coaches, or “supervisors”, use this information to give training in the form of hockey practice. The Forward Line and Defensive Line could be considered the Suppliers and Users. They all need to know what to do to avoid hazardous situations, and what to do when one arises, to reduce the number of potential failures.

A “Permit to Work” is given to the players by the coach when they form the lines. The coach ensures that the right people are on the ice for each set of circumstances, deciding when line changes happen as the game progresses, adapting the people permitted to work to the specific conditions on the ice.

Level 6: Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

All of this brings me to Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas. So how is a Goalie like PPE?

Goalies are the “last-ditch” protection. It’s clear that the first 5 levels of the hierarchy don’t always work, since every type of control, even hazard elimination, has failure modes. To give a bit of backup, we should make sure that we add extra protection in the form of PPE.

The puck wasn’t eliminated, since having a hockey game is the point, after all. The puck wasn’t kept distant by the Forward Line. The Defensive Line failed to maintain safe distance between the goal and the puck, and now all that is left is the goalie (or your protective eyewear, boots, hardhat, or whatever). In the 2011 Stanley Cup Final game, Luongo equaled long pants and long sleeves, while Thomas equaled a suit of armour. The Bruin’s “PPE” afforded superior protection in this case.

As anyone who has used protective eyewear knows, particles can get by your eyewear. There are lots of factors, including how well they fit, if you’re wearing them (properly or at all!), etc. If the gear is fitted and used properly by a person who understands WHY and HOW to use the equipment, then the PPE is more like Tim Thomas, and you may be able to “shut out” injury. Most of the time. Remember that even Tim Thomas misses stopping some shots on goal and the other guys can still score.

When your PPE doesn’t fit properly, isn’t selected properly, is worn out (or psyched out as the case may be), or isn’t used properly, then it’s more like Roberto Luongo. Sometimes it works perfectly, and life is good. Sometimes it fails completely and you end up injured or worse.

Goalies are also like PPE because they are RIGHT THERE. Right before injury will occur. PPE is RIGHT THERE, protecting you—5 mm from the surface of your eye, or in your ear, 2 mm from your ear drum. By this point the harmful energy is RIGHT THERE, ready to hurt you, and injury is imminent. A simple misplacement or bad fit condition and you’re blinded or deaf or… well you get the idea!

On Wednesday night, 15-Jun-2011, everything failed for the Vancouver Canucks. The team’s spirit was down, and they went into the game thinking “We just don’t want to lose!” instead of Boston’s “We’re taking that Cup home!”. Even the touted Home Ice Advantage wasn’t enough to psych out the Bruins, and in the end I think it turned on the Canucks as the fans realized that the game was lost. The warnings failed, the guards failed, and the PPE failed. Somebody got hurt, and unfortunately for Canadian fans, it was the Canucks. Luckily it wasn’t a fatality! Even being #2 in the NHL is a long stretch better than filling a cooler drawer in the morgue.

So the next time you’re setting up a job, an assembly line, a new machine, or a new workplace, check out your team and make sure that you’ve got the right players on the ice. You only get one chance to get it right. Sure, you can change the lines and upgrade when you need to, but once someone scores a goal, you have an injured person and bigger problems to deal with.

Special thanks to Tom Doyle for his contributions to this post!

*Personal Protective EquipmentOccupational Health and Safety

Series NavigationUnderstanding the Hierarchy of Controls

Author: Doug Nix

+DougNix is Managing Director and Principal Consultant at Compliance InSight Consulting, Inc. ( in Kitchener, Ontario, and is Lead Author and Managing Editor of the Machinery Safety 101 blog.

Doug's work includes teaching machinery risk assessment techniques privately and through Conestoga College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning in Kitchener, Ontario, as well as providing technical services and training programs to clients related to risk assessment, industrial machinery safety, safety-related control system integration and reliability, laser safety and regulatory conformity.

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  • I see, I suppsoe that would have to be the case.

  • Rangers Tickets,

    I’d like to be able to discuss your points of disagreement, as far as the Hierarchy of Controls is concerned. ❓ If your points of disagreement are in relation to Luongo’s or Thomas’ performance in the game, I respectfully have no comment! 🙂

  • Rangers Tickets

    Well I think your article is very informative. Though there are some points in which I disagree. Keep writing. :mrgreen:

  • T Savino

    I must admit, I never considered the similarities between Thomas and safety goggles

    • Hey Tom! That’s the point – we need to be looking for these kinds of analogies as a way to help our clients and our students understand these concepts. Admittedly I was reaching a bit on this one, but I think the hockey analogy works, and I think the failure of one team and the shut-out achieved by the other is a good lesson in how well, or poorly, the hierarchy of controls can work. When everything is in place, each layer plays its role and very few hazards get through to the place where the last-ditch PPE is required to provide protection. Look at the Vancouver vs Boston stats: Shots on Goal – 37:21 or 1.762:1 – Very close to 2:1 and yet the final score was 0-4. 19% of Boston’s shots went in, 0% of Vancouver’s made it in the net.

      Now I won’t claim that this is directly comparable to incident/injury reports, but there are parallels.

      Just think about all the times you’ve seen someone in the shop with their PPE in their hand or incorrectly worn…