Risky business

Risky business

If we can practise risk management in the boardroom, why can’t we do it on the road?

It’s probably safe to assume that everyone reading this magazine is familiar with the term “risk management”. As one of those ubiquitous corporate buzzwords in the safety, health environment and quality (SHEQ) spheres; there are few areas of the corporate world in which one does not encounter this concept.

A quick search on Wikipedia brings up the following definition of risk management: “The identification, assessment and prioritisation of risks followed by coordinated and economical application of resources to minimise, monitor and control the probability and/or impact of unfortunate events, or to maximise the realisation of opportunities.”

That’s quite a definition, but then this is quite serious business… The plethora of practitioners, auditors, analysts, assessors and advisors – all with the word “risk” either prefixing or sufficing their title – have, as part of their drive, the goal of ensuring a company’s employees finish the work day incident free so that they can go home to their families.

What happens then? After the inductions have been undertaken and the SHEQ officials have chalked up another successful day of “zero harm”, and after the risk auditors/analysts/assessors have concluded their audits/analysis/assessments and submitted their recommendations on how to make the workplace even more compliant, do all the company’s employees take these skills and recommendations home with them?

Call me a cynic, but I think they get hung up with the hard hats and high-vis jackets – at least when it comes to the vast majority.

You see, the nature of my job means that I am required to do a fair amount of travelling. Earlier this year, for example, some colleagues and I headed out to the small town of Bothaville in the middle of the Free State.

If you’ve visited the area, you’ll know that the roads are extremely poor. Any company’s risk advisor would probably be displeased with the fact that its employees were to traverse them. At one point the GPS even suggested routing us via a dirt road … but I digress…

Negotiating the minefield of potholes, dips, bumps, missing or loose tar and poor patchwork (what little of it there was) required reduced speed, intense concentration and unwavering patience.

This did not stop countless drivers from speeding, losing patience and overtaking – in some cases, multiple vehicles at a time. Most of these drivers were in bakkies (one even had children bouncing around unstrapped) and quite a few were wearing prominent corporate branding.

That’s what made me wonder: if most companies today are so risk averse and try to instil a culture of “reduced risk” and “zero harm” in their employees, why do some employees forget all they have learnt when they leave the premises? Why do they feel it’s acceptable to drive at more than 140 km/h on very poor rural roads with countless risks around them?

Hit a pothole and burst a tyre, or lose control…Swerve at the last minute to miss said pothole and sideswipe the guy impatiently trying to overtake you…What about the risk of farm animals, drivers passing slow-moving trucks over a blind rise, or tractors crossing from concealed side roads?

All these were present, real risks … yet – as per our definition – there was no identification, assessment and prioritisation of risk, followed by coordinated application of resources to minimise, monitor and control the probability and/or impact of unfortunate events…

Of course, this is but one example – the risky behaviour, and resultant carnage, on South Africa’s roads is among the worst in the world. Per 100 000 inhabitants we rack up an average of 25,1 fatalities each year (the world average is 17,4).

The “it’ll never happen to me” mentality prevails. Maybe it’s about time South African corporates expanded risk management to the roads because, damn, it’s risky out there … to say the least.

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