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Understanding Risk

This month I approached Safetree contributors about the up-and-coming Risk Workshops that are going to start up again around the country and asked for an overview on what one might expect going along to them. So, this what they told me (relax, I promise you this isn’t another Health & Safety article).

Risk, Health, Safety have become three words almost guaranteed to turn off an audience and stop people from reading any further. So, over the last five years we have been trying to get people to think about risk in a different way. 

Why? What we have found is that the more we develop risk management processes the less engaged people become. 

The process programmes the team to complete that process often for the sake of the process itself or for “evidence”. Evidence, you ask. Well, of course, you need to be able to prove that you have managed the risk when things go wrong. 

The irony is it hasn’t prevented the incident. Think back to the first risk you learnt to manage. It was almost certainly eating hot food as a baby and how did you learn? That’s right you felt pain and learnt to blow before you bite. You probably still get caught out with a hot pie from time to time though? Usually when you are distracted, driving or in a rush, right?

What about learning to cross the road? The process is pretty simple. Find a safe place to cross, “Stop, Look, Listen”, and if the road is clear, cross carefully, but keep looking and listening. This is the simplest of tasks we have been performing since we were very young which carries a reasonable risk. 

If you think about it, the process is automated now, but your actions of crossing are not. You still use your senses (sight and hearing) and perception (judging speed and distance) to cross safely. Now think about the close calls you have had when crossing the road. Were you rushing, distracted, drunk or all three?

So, thinking back to work, what does that risk management process actually do for you? There’s a question you should be asking amongst the team, do you serve the process, or does it serve you?

Safetree has collaborated with WorkSafe New Zealand to run regional workshops around the country talking about Understanding Risk. We have run nine workshops with more than 200 people to date.

What we have found so far is that people can all talk about the process of managing risk, but the processes aren’t really in balance with the people. For example, one of the harvesting crews we worked with had a very poor understanding of risk.

After a couple of hours helping them think about more than just identifying hazards, they called out the risks that they remembered experiencing at a time when one of their crew suffered a fatal incident. Here are the risks they identified (after the fact):

When asked, “what would you do in hindsight?”, they came up with some strategies for dealing with some of the risks. Asked further, “whose responsibility was it to manage the risks?”, they only identified themselves. They didn’t understand that risk management must be influenced by everyone involved in the work and that other people in the supply chain can actually put better controls in place by designing the work better.

Some food for thought? Safetree will be running more FREE Understanding Risk workshops in June around the country. Dates and locations will be advertised on the Safetree and FICA Facebook pages soon. Come along, have a listen, a yarn and a cup of tea and we encourage you to take time to put these learnings back into your business.

Thanks to Safetree, FISC and WorkSafe New Zealand.


This column first appeared in the NZ Logger Magazine