Managing Real Risk

30th August 2022

How effectively is your workplace managing real risk?  Carbon Safety Solutions was built on the premise that risk management in business is as foundational as carbon is to most life on this planet.  If you don’t understand where your risk is, how can you manage it?

3 Key Thoughts

I share 3 key thoughts with clients when we first get started with assessing risk in their workplace:

  1. Humans fail, it’s part of who we are:
    • We burn our mouths on pizza when we know it’s hot
    • We get in car accidents on a daily basis
    • People die in our workplaces every month of the year here in Canada
  2. So if we know we fail, how do you enable your workers to fail safely?
    • Risk management is like the old iceberg analogy, just because you think you see the risk doesn’t mean there isn’t more risk that you haven’t assessed yet
    • If your not using effective risk management, are you controlling real risk, or rather the risk you perceive?
    • What risk management methodology have you used? Is it appropriate for the nature and scale of organizational risk?
    • If you haven’t engaged a good cross-section of workers, are you really looking under the water near the iceberg? Without that knowledge, can you really know where the risk is, and what controls are effective?
  3. The last question I have for clients is: If you have to look a workers loved one in the eye to explain what happened, can you explain with a clear conscious that you did everything reasonable to control the risk?  What’s your due diligence (and conscious’s) defense?  If a worker does fail, particularly while performing a critical task, with critical risk, what’s the outcome?   I see incident outcomes falling into 3 buckets.
    • Green bucket, the hazard was adequately foreseen, and controlled and there was little to no harm or loss, controls were effective and the worker failed safely, there are lessons learned and applied
    • Yellow bucket, the hazard was foreseen, and somewhat controlled, but there was harm or loss, and improvements are clearly required
    • Red bucket, the hazard should have been foreseen, was not effectively controlled, and there was significant harm or loss, a full review is required and due diligence may not have been present

Carbon Safety’s Approach

We use our custom Risk and Program Management Tool (RPM Tool) to undertake hazard and risk workshops with clients and go through a few key steps:

  1. We get a few key people together (good cross section of workers, supervisors, and managers), and we take a look at what activities they believe have significant risk
  2. Then we review inherent risk to understand the real risk of not having or applying effective controls
  3. The critical part is identifying the controls that are effective enough to mitigate risk into the green bucket, or potentially the yellow bucket
  4. The last step is to review the inherent risk with the existing controls to determine if the controls were effective enough to lower residual risk to an appropriate level, hopefully in the green bucket
  5. If residual risk cannot be any further mitigated due to the nature of the activity or task, and is still in the yellow or red, then these are high risk activities that need continual review and assessment to look for safer ways to control the harm/loss, or in the case of red bucket risk, consideration needs to be given to whether that activity needs to be terminated

Understanding Effective Controls

As we go through this process we often come across what we call “A-ha” moments.  Those are moments where a client realizes that their controls may not be as effective as they thought.

An effective control will impact some of the risk variables that make up likelihood (i.e. targets, frequency, probability) and severity.  The CSA Z1002:12 Risk Standard provides guidance on assessing risk strategically.  If the control doesn’t impact these variables, it will likely have limited effect as a control.

While a high vis vest is a good idea working near traffic, it does little to reduce duration or frequency of exposure to the harm, or any other components of risk.

A concrete barrier on the other hand reduces exposure to the traffic, and reduces severity should a vehicle strike a barrier near a worker, instead of the worker.  This was one client a-ha moment.  They perceived high vis vest as safe, but hadn’t assessed “how safe”.

Todd Conklin on Controls

Todd Conklin is an organizational psychologist who has focused on managing safety over the years.  He has 3 key questions to ask a worker who is undertaking high risk work.

  • When this job fails, what will kill you?
  • What can stop you from dying?
  • Is that enough?

The following link  (9 min video) on critical risk controls provides some good insights and questions for your workplace, it’s worth a look.

Todd Conklin Risk Controls

Perception Vs. Assessment

The critical message is that if you haven’t undertaken a risk management exercise that’s relevant to the nature and scale of your organizations activities and risk levels, you may not be managing the real risk of your organization, and may underestimate the nature of the risk, and the effectiveness of the controls.

You may be managing the perceived risk rather than the real risk.


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