There is no such thing as 100% safe. Nothing is infallible. The key is to balance the benefit of making something 99.99% safe vs. the additional cost over making it 99.9% safe. That is usually a decision for corporate officers and regulators. For someone working on the creation of that product, the goal should be to make it as safe as possible within the constraints given.
Disclaimer: The following is given on the premise that the company is not ignoring regulations, accepted safety standards, or somehow being deceitful about the actual safety of their product with knowledge otherwise.
Let's say I'm producing a product that has a defect rate of 0.01%. My customers will pay $10 more for a product with a defect rate of 0.001%. If it costs more than $10 to reduce the defect rate that much, it will actually make my customers more unhappy (as they won't value my product as highly due to the additional cost).
While distasteful, this math does extend to human safety as well. Let's say you are the owner of a trucking company. There is a truck on the market that will reduce mortality from accidents by a factor of 10, but it will increase your cost by $x per mile. If your customers aren't willing to pay the extra $x per mile, you have to make a business decision.
Safety does not exist in a vacuum, and nothing will be 100% safe. The tradeoff of increasing safety will hit a point where it is no longer possible to stay safe and remain in business.
This sort of risk calculus is the realm of corporate officers and regulators.
Some risks society dictates as "too big" and/or "too easy not to require", and regulate those risks through laws. For instance, seat belt laws, and safety standards for automobiles have been determined as "must-haves" and are regulated by the government. Prohibitions on smoking at gas pumps would be another example.
But beyond those regulated risks, it is up to corporate officers to decide what is right for their business. Let's say I own a construction firm. It is common knowledge that construction isn't the safest line of work (fatality rate of 10.8 per 100k employees in the US in 2006). Let's say you want me to build a house for you for $200k. How much are you willing to pay for the same house at a fatality rate of 8? 5? 2? How much will it cost for me to reduce fatality by that much? Alternatively, how much do I need to pay my workers for a fatality rate of 10.8 vs. 8, or 5, or 2?
If you aren't willing to pay as much as it costs for added safety, and/or my workers aren't willing to take a pay cut for the increased safety, then I won't be in the construction business long as I won't have customers or employees. This is my decision as a business owner to make. While this may sound distasteful, it is up to the market (both of employers, employees, and customers) to find the appropriate balance.
Safest Within Given Constraints
In general, your goal should be to:
- Identify the factors that have the biggest impact on safety
- Inform management about the relative risk of each of those factors
- Manage your work to maximize the safety given the constraints provided by your employer
Let's say you are a manager of a bunch of truck drivers. Management declined your suggestion to get the safer trucks because it is well beyond the budget that customers are willing to pay extra to for safety. You know that they won't pay the amount for the new trucks, but that doesn't mean they will totally ignore safety. You need to find a way to make truck driving as safe as possible given a limited budget.
Identify the Factors
Going through accident/incident logs for your employees, you identify the following major causes for accidents:
- Lack of sleep
- Inexperienced drivers
- Exceeding the speed limit
You compile statistics on those three factors, including the causes, and some potential solutions. For instance:
- Increasing staff to reduce extended periods on the road without rest
- Providing prepaid coffee cards to staff to ensure they can always be caffeinated when they are on the road long-term
- Hiring more experienced drivers by providing more competitive pay to them
- Providing driving instruction to new employees to minimize rookie mistakes
- Increasing driving times to minimize the incentive to speed
Work With What You're Given
So let's say the employer tells you that you have a budget of $X to try to tackle these issues. Your job is to make that budget of $X extend as far as possible to maximize the safety of your employees. You may not be able to do everything on your list, but that was a choice made by management that you can't do much about.
Part of working for other people is the need to compromise. It is their company, their money, and their rules. You can push to change them from within, but at the end of the day you have to work within the constraints given, or to quit. Realize that quitting will not solve the problem, it will just remove your responsibility for solving it.