I recall being one of the 1000’s of unfortunate drivers stuck on the north side of Brisbane cut off by unprecedented flood waters that overflowed creeks and gullies and blocked roads in all directions. I was fortunate enough though to finally get home that night, unlike many others who were still stranded in the morning, or those few who got caught in the waters and perished.
During the drive though it was astonishing to see how people calculated, and then were willing to take the risks they did. Every “closed” road I came to had cars parked either in the middle of the water or on the edges, no longer operable. I saw the flooding on two of the roads that claimed the lives of four people, and they were well and truly impassable. In all of these circumstances, the objective to get home or get through was obviously greater than the perceived risk of crossing swollen creeks and being washed away, or having the vehicle break down.
I see the same risk assessment and behaviour in workplaces, where individuals calculate the risk against the consequences, and determine that the threat of injury or harm is inconsequential or worth it to achieve the desired outcome. The same goes for our home environment. This risk assessment process is going on with the knowledge that others who have gone before us, whether it be with work tasks or into the flood waters either this time or in past events, have been stuck, injured, swept away, or died. Alerts and warnings are broadcast before and during the event about not proceeding through flooded roads. So why do we disregard this relevant information?
The process for rationalising the risk is typically based on our past experiences and knowledge or perception of the issue. “It won’t happen to me”, or “I have done this 100’s of times before without any problem = I am competent”, or ” Others do it that way so it must be right or safe”. Worse yet risk taking may also be attributed to omitting steps, and cutting corners to do it quicker, at less cost, or pressure from the workplace.
In 2015 alone 51 persons had been killed in work related incidents. I am sure they all went to work expecting to come home safely at the end of the shift. But somewhere along the way the risks they were exposed to and the controls in place did not align.
In your workplace, are workers encouraged to effectively calculate the risks, and not to perform the work if it is not safe or all of the controls are not available? Supervision of the risk management process is paramount in ensuring workers go home safe at the end of the day. Engagement with the workforce is critical to ensure they understand nothing is more important than their well-being. Maybe the skills and enforcement of risk vs consequence that they receive at work will follow them when they leave the workplace to keep them safe all the time? Take the time now to review how you measure your risk processes, engage with your workforce, observe their behaviour to see whether your business or people might be exposed to avoidable risk-taking practices.