Thursday, 19 November 2009

Risk assessment and management

Today’s reading which we discussed at tonight’s staff meeting was the second time that Risk surfaced today. The first was a request for a Risk Assessment for a situation (not in the Church) that I’m associated with.

I’ve been uncomfortable for some time about the Risk Assessment processes promoted by the government Health and Safety Executive. I have a number of concerns. Firstly ‘Assessment’ is passive: the dictionary defines it as ‘the act of judging or deciding the amount, value, quality or importance of something’ so it doesn’t suggest doing anything other than judging. I’m also concerned that Risk Assessments are viewed as a piece of bureaucracy. Once done, they can be filed away and forgotten. I was once told by a Young Enterprise student who was involved in an event at the school “don’t worry about the risk assessment, the office is doing that for us.” The HSE web site information tends to support these concerns.

Risk Management is a much better description of what needs to be done: assess the risks and then manage them. To be fair the HSE documentation does include as step 3 ‘what are you already doing’ and ‘what further action is necessary’ but the concept of actively managing the risks is absent. Risk management needs to be an integral part of the management of any initiative or activity. It needs to be balanced, so it shouldn’t take over, neither should it attempt to eliminate risks. Risk awareness is key: understanding the outstanding risks and, in particular, the potential impact of these. I regularly see people taking silly unnecessary risks – especially ones where the chance of them occurring is slim but the impact very serious. Walking along a country road with no pavement on the wrong (left) side is an example – crossing to face the traffic is simple and may avoid a fatal accident. I always give parked cars a very wide berth if there’s nobody coming the other way: the chance of a door opening or someone stepping out is small but the potential very serious. Neither of these situations is covered by Risk Assessment.

The reading, by the way, was a version of the parable of the ten pounds (Luke 19 12-28). The verse which I recognise as ‘I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away’ was quoted as ‘He said, “That's what I mean: Risk your life and get more than you ever dreamed of. Play it safe and end up holding the bag.”’ The full parable can be read in the two versions here and here.

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