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Don’t Forget Your Homework: The Importance Of Risk Assessments

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I worked in the oil industry, where relatively small errors can (and do) lead to death. In this setting, risk assessments are mandatory when faced with any change in process, technology or new projects. During my days with their Health Safety and Environment team, at the Brazilian headquarters, risk assessments were bread and butter for me.

I only realised that I was an expert on risk assessments when I moved into consultancy. People were carrying out risk assessments moving straight from the situation to the qualification of the risk, without assessing separately the likelihood (i.e. probability) and consequence of the specific situation. This lack of understanding of risk assessments turns out to be quite normal and I have seen over and over people talking about risks without understanding that it involves an assessment of probability.

Without proper consideration, risk assessments do not mean anything. They became so banal to me in my consultancy life that I stopped using a risk assessment mind-set in my work. I currently work as an integrator, facilitating workshops in a relatively safe environment, connecting groups with their passion, people and the planet.

No-one is likely to die as a consequence of my current work, so why bother?

The answer is simple: Anyone will be more prepared if they do risk assessments of what can go wrong. Because things do go wrong, risk assessments are an important way of preparing for handling the awkward moments. Whenever undertaking a new piece of work, engaging with a new group or applying a new tool, there are four basic questions that can be used:

  • What is the worse that can happen (i.e. consequence)?
  • What is the likelihood of it happening (i.e. probability)?
  • Is there anything that I do to minimize the probability of the consequence of it (i.e. mitigation measure)?
  • What will I do if the worse happens (i.e. contingency plan)?

Of course, there are a number of situations where you just cannot even think of the risks before you get to them. Then you have to think on your feet, rely on your expertise and adapt to the situation. For all the other cases, a quick risk assessment will save you a lot of energy re-mediating situations that could have been avoided.

Don’t be afraid to make a big leap – but do make sure, where necessary, you have your parachute attached!