Understanding risk

The non-haphazard way of assessing safety issues and their fixes is called risk management. The basic idea is not super-science complicated. It’s more common sense and relies on assessing the various factors that make up a risky situation. Plus one other thing, it requires standardized documentation.

Follow a structured assessment process and beneficial results can emerge. Follow your gut, and who knows what will happen.

One way or another, when you consider real-life issues, you will perform some form of risk assessment, even if you do not recognize it as such.

Standardizing the assessment process

Why this is a good idea.
A standardized process puts everyone on the same page – focuses attention on critical points.
It assures all evidence is presented – a checklist approach to assessment.
It promotes effective documentation – follow-up for reference and comparison of different situations.

The purpose of this site is to promote the formal process of risk management. Risk management is a practice used in many fields, from medical management and fire prevention to aeronautical design and financial management. The benefits of adopting this process as a formal practice are many and include, reduced risks of accidents or failure, and more effective financial management.

“Life is inherently risky!”

Yes it is. But, without a formal process, we can make flawed decisions:
Seeing a new danger as the most important one, regardless of actual risk.
Assessing risk by personality – the individual with the strongest personality determines the course of action.
Avoiding risk altogether, or allocating funds to popular problems – “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

This is not an attempt to catalog or define all of the risks. Shown here are examples, presented to show how assessments can be performed, and how this process can produce better outcomes.

Origins of risk management

One view of the development of formal risk assessment shows it as a response to the use of two technologies. In the late 1800s, those working with the new systems of  fire extinguishing sprinklers and electrical power recognized the need for standards in construction and management. Thus was born, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

I am familiar with NFPA standards from my work in hospitals. Their healthcare code: “establishes criteria for levels of health care services or systems based on risk to the patients, staff, or visitors in health care facilities to minimize the hazards of fire, explosion, and electricity.” NFPA standards initially focused on fire and electrical dangers, but their codes are now embedded in many places. As they now state: “Virtually every building, process, service, design, and installation is affected by NFPA’s 275+ codes and standards.” And that now also includes how we live, and where we live.

Community Risk Reduction (CRR)

The formal method of community risk management probably had its beginnings in St. Louis. This is described in their Urban Fire and Life Safety Task Force paper.

“In 2005, the St. Louis Fire Department — which protects a city that is 66.2 square miles with a population of 320,000 and a daytime population that swells to 1 million — launched a Community Risk Reduction program called Meeting Neighbors and Saving Lives. The program was the department’s first attempt at a true Community Risk Reduction program. Meeting Neighbors and Saving Lives was centered on meeting residents face-to-face to address fire safety issues within their homes as a proactive approach to help prevent fires and fire-related injuries.”

NFPA now actively promotes this program: “programs, actions, and services used by a community, which prevent or mitigate the loss of life, property, and resources associated with life safety, fire, and other disasters within a community.” Their 2016 Urban Task Force report, Community Risk Reduction: Doing More With More, makes some salient comments regarding fire departments and community relationships.

“It’s the all-hazards solution to the all-hazards response that the modern fire service needs. Many fire service organizations are hesitant to adopt a Community Risk Reduction approach because of the changes required within an organization. Fire service leaders need to keep in mind that Community Risk Reduction will make any fire service organization more efficient and effective in saving lives and property.”

“Community Risk Reduction is a gateway to the reinvention of the fire service culture, utilizing a data-driven process to change how fire service organizations handle the responsibilities of public safety. The initiatives developed under Community Risk Reduction require a new approach at organizational and community levels. As improbable as it may sound, change, in the Community Risk Reduction sense, will make any fire service organization more efficient and effective in saving lives and property.”

Reducing risk in communities is not the sole responsibility of the local fire or police departments, any more than it is the elementary school teacher’s sole responsibility to raise your child. It takes a community.

“Rocket Science”