When Risk Assessments inadvertently replace Risk Management
Safety management systems are developed to help organisations in the water industry to systematically manage their safety risks. What is less studied or recognised, however, is that these same safety systems can also increase an organisation’s exposure to risk. By drawing on preliminary findings from a larger research project between the presenter and Griffith University that analysed seven major workplace accident reports, this presentation explores how safety management activities like completing risk assessments, risk registers or safe work method statements can ‘decouple’ safety beliefs from safety practices. This can result in a belief within organisations that operational risks are better managed than they really are.
Further, by evaluating the major accident reports, several mechanisms that contribute to the decoupling effect are discussed which can assist water organisations to develop realistic and appropriate risk management practices. These mechanisms include the management of plans being conflated with management of risk, confusion between the overarching purpose of the plan versus what is actually written in it, and how plans both document and further shape our beliefs around the controllability of risks and more.
Overall, this presentation highlights how organisations can, mistakenly, focus on the preparation and application of written safety management documents instead of eliminating risks.