Are You Risk Blind?
If you have a Safety Management System in place in your organization, do you feel you have the risks you deal with under control? Are you intentionally aware of the risks you deal with? Or, are you so much into the “groove” of how you do what you do, that risk has become invisible? If this is the case for you, perhaps you have normalized risk. This happens when you work with hazards on a regular basis. When nothing bad happens time after time, risk can go unrecognized. The risk becomes a normal thing.
According to Ivan Pupulidy, PhD, “normalization of risk happens when we no longer recognize or give value to the risks inherent in our operations, instead, we become accustomed to operating with them. We begin to believe in our own system of controls, specifically that we have mitigated, controlled, removed or transferred the risks and we forget the risks that we have accepted as necessary to complete our goals.”
Since normalization of risk means we no longer see the risks we deal with, let’s remind ourselves what risk is and the relationship between risks and hazards. A hazard is something that has the potential to cause harm while risk is the likelihood of harm taking place, based on exposure to that hazard. An aviation example might be…a hazard is a thunderstorm and the risk is potential structural damage or failure that may occur from flight through a thunderstorm or an encounter with windshear activity resulting from that storm.
How about a visualization and a memory aid? We’ve all seen pictures of the damage that hail can do to an aircraft’s radome, right? If not, look up some of those images. The hazard is hail. Hazard and hail both start with H. The risk is the potential for damage to the radome if an aircraft encounters significant hail in flight. Risk and Radome both start with R. Maybe that image will stick a little better than a definition you’ve seen before.
Now that we are fresh on what risk is, think about it. What are the risks you face? What things do you encounter that could result in an accident or incident in your areas of influence? Are you raising your level of active awareness of those risks? And are you actively mitigating them? Are you becoming actively aware of hazards? Awareness of hazards generates awareness of risks. It is essential for each of us to take responsibility for this awareness. It is critical that those of us in jobs that have a direct relationship with safety, such as aviation, keep our eyes open to these things.
Fight the normalization of risk within your operations by actively engaging in managing risks.