Yesterday I spent my work day attending training on Risk Assessment. It was an optional course and rather more health and safety focused than I would have chosen. I went along because I teach a first year module on risk issues, and I hoped to get some ideas for giving students more of a general introduction to risk. The course, run by a guy from RoSPA, did differentiate usefully between a hazard (something with the potential to cause harm) and a risk (the likelihood of that potential being realised). The trouble for my students is that risk from human beings is more difficult to calculate than risk from trailing wires or poorly assembled scaffolding.
Another general principle on the course was how risk magnitude is calculated by multiplying the likelihood of harm with the severity of harm. More action is required for a medium severity risk which is highly likely to occur than for a high severity risk which is very unlikely to occur. This is an argument for increased resources to be put towards reducing smoking or road traffic accidents rather than against terrorism. The guy also mentioned how we do risk management, not risk avoidance. Many risks cannot be eliminated (or work to do so would be disproportionate). This is certainly one of the messages we are trying to get across in the course I teach. There will always be risks in child protection work.
We also talk about positive risk taking, and how this is an important area of development for young people. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga took some definite risks during his match against Federer this afternoon, but was rewarded with a place in the Wimbledon semi-final. Producing powerful second serves in tennis is a gamble, but one that paid off well as he won 80% of his second service points. Sports like climbing and rafting can be great to build team working skills and involve manageable risks, so long as the safety measures and supervision are suitable and the course well designed. The course leader yesterday insisted that paragliding is much more hazardous than I’d imagined, which is a shame. I always thought that looked great fun.
Other risks might involve us feeling embarrassed or foolish rather than any physical harm. Performing in public might feel like taking a risk and I am glad so many people have been willing to participate in the open mic events I have hosted. Some of the most entertaining items might have been missed if people hadn’t been prepared to take a risk and put themselves out there. Many opportunities involve the risk of failure, whether it’s applying for a job, taking a driving test or applying for bids or grants. Good preparation will help, but we can often learn as much from our failures as we do from our successes. What’s the worst that can happen?
We also take risks when we put ourselves out there emotionally. In relationships we risk rejection, being let down, being hurt. If we open up to someone, we make ourselves vulnerable; if we never open up to anyone we may be left isolated or unsupported. There are risks in doing nothing. Contemplating a new relationship, how willing am I to take a chance, and how likely is it that someone might be willing to take a chance, take a chuckka chance chance on me? Maybe it feels like a bigger deal than it actually is. At least I don’t have to fill in lots of forms…