Thursday, 22 January 2009

Risky Business . . .

In the best traditions of the Internet, I followed a link, which lead to an article about ‘healthensafety’.

It set me thinking about ‘risk’.

In the last ten years a new phrase has become firmly entrenched in the British vocabulary: “risk assessment”. Talking back then to a friend about it, he said “We do it already – we have to manage risk when riding!”. Indeed, when I first trained with the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF), risk management wasn important part of their training. The difference, of course, is that although we’ve always ‘done’ risk assessments and risk management in an informal, now it’s more likely that the results will be documented as part of a safety audit [aka ‘blame’] trail.

That sounds cynical, as if I see no benefit, in the same way that ‘qualifications’ have become important not just as recognition of skill, but of reliability (or just ‘ability’) and that without them you can’t – or are not allowed – to do something.

OK, perhaps I am a little cynical :)

But looking at it from the point of view of a prospective trainee, who doesn’t know me or what I can do (or anyone who does to ask), there are just two ways of finding out: published recommendations, and recognised qualifications.

And in the same way, a prospective trainee, who knows nothing about training, is going to assume – or hope – (and those both assume the trainee even thinks of it) that I will look after them – have a duty of care – during their training session.

And being a pessimist as well as cynical, perhaps I have to think about ‘covering my back’ too. Just because I’m right, doesn’t mean no-one is able to sue me.

So I use recognised, proven, training methods and techniques. And, in a ‘small’ way, I risk assess what the trainee will be doing.

Example: clutch control / pulling away practise; ensure the trainee knows how to stop *before* setting them off!

When I told a very experience rider that a few days ago he laughed – he’d never thought about ‘training’ in any depth. I think it changed his view of how ‘good’ training has to be planned.

‘Formal’ risk assessments are often documented, particularly in safety-critical areas, but I’m not aware of anyone who does this for ‘typical’ bike training. Bike training, of course, isn’t at all safety-critical . . .

More likely is that we do something more like the “we already do that” on-the-fly risk assessment.

So I was quite pleased to find this actually has a ‘name’, it’s a recognised process.

The name is Dynamic Risk Assessment (Hey! Great – it even has a TLA!). And it’s a very simple process:

Identify the risk, and who is potentially affected
Select a way of minimising with the risk
Assess whether that is acceptable
Decide: Is overall risk proportional to benefit?
If ‘yes’ proceed
If ‘no’ can you further reduce risk? Consider alternative action, repeat the sequence

So there you are: Dynamic Risk Assessment in action!

Was my friend right, ‘we already do that’?


It sounds very much like the ‘Observe Plan Act’ from Roadcraft, or the ‘Search Predict Act’ from the MSF that I prefer – although they’ve now replaced it with Search Evaluate Execute.

But the important things are not the actual acronym, the system, or the details of the sequence, it’s that we go through some sort of process and are realistic and honest about the risks we take.


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