andrea rowe

Andrea Rowe

| August 01 2018

Watch out for the ‘fun police’

We have all heard stories of people concluding something is high-risk and "we can’t do it anymore".

Children used to be allowed to walk to school on their own and get a lift home in a friends’ parents car without seatbelts, and parents (usually the mother) cooked cakes to raise money for the school or sporting club. Not anymore!

It occurred to me the other day there is a good reason why risk assessments in the workplace conclude most things are ‘unsafe.’

Risk assessments find risk

Firstly, the process of hazard identification and risk assessment is prefaced on finding something wrong, so people feel they have not done their job if they don’t find risks.

Secondly, the risk matrix most organisations commonly use only has two parameters:

  1. Severity of the injury,
  2. Likelihood of the injury.

Many people have been educated, wrongly as it happens, to always take the worst-case scenario in risk assessments, and of course this always results in a high-risk or moderate-risk rating if you do this. If you want to know how to conduct proper risk assessments come to one of our safety leadership courses or our half-day risk assessment workshop.

Let’s look at some popular recreational pursuits:

  • Skiing
  • Bicycle riding
  • Hiking
  • Motorbike riding
  • Horse riding, and
  • Flying ultra-light aircraft or balloon rides.

Many people are injured, and some killed in these pursuits every year. In the workplace all the above would be rated as high or extreme risk, and therefore would be totally banned or severely curtailed for most workers.

Fun factor overrides risk for some people.

This is not a criticism of risk assessments or even the standard risk matrix, but what it highlights to me is that in the recreational area "fun" was a major factor why people undertake their favourite activity. Even in the face of obvious risk of significant injury if something goes wrong.

Interestingly, the new international standard on risk management, ISO 31,000: 2018, does not even mention risk as a source of possible benefits and only offers "treatment options" in the risk management process for elimination or reduction of risk.

Very few risk assessments adequately include and balance the benefits of the activity with the risks. Maybe we need a third parameter for our risk assessments eg "the benefits"?

Risk level = Severity x Likelihood x Benefits

Another reason why risk assessments result in the "fun police" restricting previously acceptable activities is the tendency for those conducting the risk assessments to make decisions about acceptability of what they have found.

A friend recently reminded me of the military approach where there are clear limits of authority and those conducting risk assessments do not make decisions on what risks are acceptable but escalate the results of their assessment to the person with authority to make that judgement.

For example, a ship maintenance specialist would advise the ship captain of the risks they have identified, and the captain would decide if they were acceptable or not.

This article by our CEO, Gary Rowe, is intended to start more discussion about our risk assessments, and better understand how they relate to common recreational risks which would be intolerable in the workplace.