Indicators of Risk

Indicators of Risk

imageI often get sent presentations and training formats from safety people seeking my expertise on improvement, learning design and critique of safety presentations.

One thing safety people are not educated in is teaching, curriculum and learning. Amazing how the industry throws safety people in front of the bus and expects them to design and deliver learning experiences without any training. Not too different to expecting safety people to be expert communicators without any training either, that is the joy of a useless WHS curriculum that doesn’t prepare safety people for the workplace ( ). Hey doesn’t matter, as long as you say the magic word ‘zero’ all will go well. All you need is a bit more mindfulness ( to get to nirvana!

I was sent a presentation this week to teach a group about risk assessment. The purpose of the presentation was to teach people how to complete a risk assessment form. Similarly I often get presentations that seek to train people in how to fill out a safe work method statement (SWMS) form. The amazing thing is, the most important goal is filling out the form!

Of course the completion of a form doesn’t mean one has undertaken a risk assessment, it just means you know how to fill out a form. We all know that paperwork is not evidence of a risk assessment ( Similarly, holding a drivers license doesn’t mean one is a good driver. Understanding the nature of evidence is essential in building a defendable risk assessment process (

None of the presentations I get sent to me have anything to do with how to conduct a risk assessment or how to analyze and evaluate risk! They simply just teach a person how to complete a form. In the presentation I saw this week the first slide asked the question ‘What is a risk assessment?’ on slide 1 and, after 50 slides had not answered the question!

Unless one knows what the indicators of risk are in physical, psychological and cultural terms it is not likely you have done a risk assessment. It’s most likely that one has just completed a form that was designed by the mechanistic/behaviourist bias of the designer of the form. The form may look great but usually the psychological and cultural indicators of risk are the ones that are most likely to kill people.

A risk assessment is not a form but rather a conversational and interactive process with a team or individuals in identifying and tackling risk. In many ways it is an effort based on faith in prediction that seeks to name potential risks based on history, experience and expertise. If one doesn’t know what the critical indicators is risk are, what I call ‘iCues’ (  ) or ‘risk intelligence’ ( ), then it’s not likely that one has done a risk assessment. One thing for sure, a risk assessment is not about naming hazards. Risk is about people, judgment and human decision making, not about the objects they interact with.

One also needs to know how risk is amplified and attenuated (; as well as how certain processes in risk management generate by-products and trade-offs (; ) that mitigate against the success of risk assessment strategies. Principles such as homeostasis (, anti-fragility ( and cultural dynamics all play a part in ensuring that risk action strategies are effective.

Unless one takes into account the primary, secondary and tertiary elements of risk, its not likely that you have done a risk assessment and its even more likely that your paperwork will not stand up in court as a defendable help should something go wrong ( ).

If you would like more education or information on how to do an actual risk assessment contact

4. DUE DILIGENCE from Human Dymensions on Vimeo.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

6 Replies to “Indicators of Risk”

  1. I expect the majority of the presentation slides are cluttered and contain more than ten words, which is often indicative that the presenter is not conversant with the subject.

  2. Much worse, most of what I see is hundreds of words per slide. What is worse is just how much total rubbish is included. It’s staggering just how much total gobbledygook is included that has nothing to do with tackling risk.

  3. I can recall a mandatory operations induction on a major coal seam gas project that consisted of 60 presentation slides with an assessment questionnaire that was delivered in just 30 minutes.

    Most of the slides were cluttered with irrelevant junk and the entire scam was written to protect the writer.

    Every attendee passed, which confirmed its integrity and none of this is revealed during any internal or external independent audits……Quis custodiet ipsos custodes.

  4. I really like the idea of including all aspects of risk, but you are right that I know of no methods that give consideration to culture, amplification, or attenuation of risk. It should be a tool for conversation but often ends up an exercise in applying numbers. What we need is a candid conversation about the holistic risks in the work being performed – and that never seems to get included because the goal is to assign a number.

  5. Suzanne, there is no sense of holism in the risk and safety industry because it is dominated by behaviourist, rationalist and cognitivist philosophy, hence the delusion of numbers as a representation of something.

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