Skip to main content

Opening the Economy: How to Not Drift Into Failure

Opening the nation requires consideration among the components of safety, workload, and the economy to prevent drifting into failure.

Virus, Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Diseases have been around for centuries. The coronavirus of 2019 (COVID-19) isn’t the first worldwide crisis the nation has experienced, and most likely not the last. Since the disease crossed international borders, it is described as a pandemic (Sanford, 2013). According to Miller (2020), other pandemics include the Asian Flu (1956-1958), the Flu Pandemic of 1918, and the Great London Plague of 1665.

This article tries to apply management theory to a decision to reopen a workplace during the COVID-19 crisis.

A safety model developed by Jens Rasmussen illustrates how many organizations drift into failure. "Wandering into failure" means approaching one or more of three boundaries. Figure 1 illustrates the drift-into-failure boundaries. Knowing the boundaries and understanding how decisions have an opposite reaction presents a key element to identify. In figure one, the boundary lines represents the economy, workload, and safety (Figure 1). Decisions about a particular boundary (safety, economy, or workload) moves the center of the operating point toward another boundary within the circle. Thus, the goal requires a control to prevent drifting outside of a boundary and increasing our chance for failure.

Figure 1, Drift Into Failure

Figure 1, Drift Into Failure

Drift into Failure Explanation

The arrows inside of the circle intersect one another, and this represents the center operating point. The point floats or moves within the circle as we make decisions about safety, workload, and economy. Changes occur and the point changes, exposing the center operating point beyond a boundary.

For example, human health and sickness push the center operating point away from the safety boundary and move the bubble toward the economic failure boundary. For example, the stay at home advice over time allows the center to extend past the economic failure boundary. Therefore, careful consideration becomes necessary to prevent extending outside of the economic boundary. An extension past the economic failure zone resembles our current state of lockdown and stay at home policy.

Next, the unacceptable workload distinguishes the current manning and production capacity from our workplace. So how do we maintain balance and move away from the economic failure and unacceptable workload lines during the pandemic? A key element of the safety model is the unacceptable risk that parallels safety. To prevent expanding past the zone requires a few controls to prevent drifting past the safety area. Exercising the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) hierarchy of controls represents an option to prevent the drift. Thus, the more controls put in place, the less likely of an accident or person becoming infectious.

We understand exposure to the virus happens through inhalation of an aerosol versus digestive or dermal contact (Fuller, 2015). However, as more data presents itself, additional information will highlight the exposure route and suggest controls to lower the level of risk.

Next, our dilemma included closing the economy to battle the virus. COVID-19 represented itself as an invisible adversary, causing illness and increasing the fatality numbers. However, careful consideration to place effective controls will allow the workload to elevate and economy to expand. Consideration in developing an effective process because of the current quandary requires a permissible solution. Therefore, the hierarchy of controls provides a systematic approach to control the virus and aid in stimulating the economy by moving the workforce toward an acceptable workload. Thus, health, economy, and workload decisions presented today may lead to an out-of-balance situation tomorrow.

The hierarchy of controls includes personal protective equipment (PPE), administrative, engineering, substitution, and elimination. They present the hierarchy of controls, shown in Figure 2. The most effective controls include elimination, while the least effective identifies PPE (OSHA, 2016). Reducing exposure to the hazard relates to PPE, administrative, and engineering controls. To eliminate or reduce the hazard may require substitution and elimination. The current policies and procedures require the proper understanding of the hazard to determine the risk-level and effective control. Limited information about the virus presents conflicting workforce policy. Therefore, data is important to develop proper controls.

Figure 2, Hierarchy of Controls

Figure 2, Hierarchy of Controls

Hierarchy of Controls

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, the procedures must align to protect the human and present a healthful and safe workplace (OSHA, 2016). Limited quantitative data does not exist and presents another problem to plan effective solutions. Solutions to overcome the pandemic include a vaccine to eliminate or reduce the spread of infection. However, the medicine may take time to develop. Next, substitution relates to a less hazardous material and not represented as an option for the pandemic.

Fuller (2015), mentions that an engineering control resembles a building ventilation system. Current office environments perform as a general dilution system used for heating and cooling. This system dilutes contaminants while mixing fresh air and reducing the percentage of air particles. Here, additional controls such as a mask and social distancing are productive alternatives. Next, a local exhaust ventilation system captures the contaminants and exhausts it from the space before mixing with the supply air (Fuller, 2015). We find this ventilation system in an automotive paint booth or a workstation to remove present harmful chemicals. An engineering control of this sort is effective although out of the equation without proper budgeting and design to retrofit existing structures.

Administrative controls include policy and procedures such as social distancing and training. Isolation of personnel through telework and alternative work locations support the control of infection. Therefore, administrative controls present a viable option during today’s pandemic. Next, PPE presents the last resort as an alternative today to protect the workforce (OSHA, 2016).

Relating to Rasmussen’s safety model present boundaries that require the use of effective controls. Using the controls will allow the economy to open, workload production to increase, and decrease the virus risk. Thus, balance must exist between safety, workload, and the economy. Observing the center point within the circle should enable us to open the economy without drifting into failure.



Fuller, T. P. (2015). Essentials of industrial hygiene. Itasca, IL: National Safety Council.

[Influenza, 1918], (2020). Retrieved from

Miller, K. (2020). 6 of the worst pandemics in history: Five of them happened in the last century alone. Retrieved from

Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (2016). Recommended practices for safety and health programs. Retrieved from

Sanford, S. (2013). Integrating pandemic through preparedness: Global security and the utility of threat (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.