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

Doug Nix is Managing Director and Principal Consultant at Compliance InSight Consulting, Inc. ( in Kitchener, Ontario, and is Lead Author and Senior 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. For more see Doug's LinkedIn profile.