Risk Reduction for Safer Organisation


Dr. Victor Roggeveen
Is risk reduction chance or choice? How does leadership play a role here? When investigating safety incidents, it is crucial to avoid isolating individuals’ behavior and instead carefully examine the broader context. This includes exploring the interaction between their external environment and internal thoughts and feelings that contribute to their actions. By gaining a deep understanding of these interconnected worlds, we start to look at risk reduction not any more as a mere “myth”, but rather, a series of significant choices that makes a difference.

Introduction to Risk Reduction

Many of you have probably witnessed an event when you asked yourself “How in the world did this occur?  What could people have possibly been thinking?”  Was it a “It won’t happen to me” mindset?  What made him think that his risky act was the right thing to do? How did leadership play a role here? Did supervision turn a blind eye? While it’s easy to jump to conclusions, finding the real answers to these questions require a professional approach. That’s why, when we investigate safety incidents, we can’t look at people’s behavior in isolation. We must carefully examine the broader context – the interaction between the outerworld and the inner world of that person that leads to a certain behavior.

This is where a structured Risk Reduction Cycle can be applied. By following this process, we can generate effective solutions for reducing risks and preventing incidents. From identifying potential hazards to implementing interventions, the Risk Reduction Cycle offers a clear roadmap for creating a safer work environment. So, are you ready to take the first step towards a safer future? Let’s explore the Risk Reduction Cycle together and see how we can make a positive impact on workplace safety.

The risk reduction cycle consists of five phases: Recognition, Ability, Motivation, Courage and Action.


Risk Recognition

Have you ever wondered why some safety incidents catch us off guard? It’s often because the risks were not properly recognized in the first place. That’s why the first step of the Risk Reduction Cycle is all about recognition – recognizing potential hazards and ensuring that everyone is aware of the threats they face.

To do this, we focus on the quality and completeness of risk information. We ask ourselves: Does this information truly represent reality? Are people fully aware of the risks they are exposed to? Without comprehensive risk information and awareness, risk control measures can not be sufficient.

But when we ave a solid foundation of risk awareness, we can further build upon it with confidence. It serves as the basis for all initiatives aimed at reducing risks and securing the primary process.

So, let’s apply this concept to our own workplaces. Are potential safety incidents widely known within your organization? Do the people involved have sufficient recognition of their exposure to risks? By thoroughly addressing these questions, we can create a safer and more secure work environment for everyone.

Ability to intervene

It’s not enough to simply be aware of the risks that threaten our primary process. People must also understand what to do and have the knowledge to do so, thus preventing these risks from escalating into triggered events. Understanding + knowledge = ability.  And it’s this ability that will ultimately keep us safe.

Of course, the specific risk mitigating options will vary depending on the organization and its unique structure. However, broadly speaking, there are three key strategies we can use to reduce risk:

(1) Limiting the severity of identified hazards,

(2) Reducing the likelihood of triggering an adverse event and

(3) Minimizing exposure of people, assets, and the environment to the potential harm.

By understanding these options, we can take action to reduce identified risks to an acceptable level while ensuring the continuity of the organisation’s primary process.

But this also requires the presence of knowledgeable individuals who have the ability to intervene at the right time and in the right place. These individuals must be appropriately qualified and experienced to conduct the required risk-reducing actions.

So, let’s ask ourselves: Are the people involved in our organization sufficiently qualified and experienced to respond appropriately? Do they have the ability to identify and mitigate risks in a timely and effective manner? By addressing these questions head-on, we can further strengthen our risk reduction foundation to keep our workplace as a safe and secure environment for all.

Motivation to intervene

When people have the recognition and ability to respond to risks, they also need to have the willingness or self-motivation to take action. This motivation can come from various sources. Legislation, Governmental Rules and Regulations as well as requirements by insurance companies or commercially important clients are strong external motivators.  Intrinsic motivators, such as a desire to do the right thing or a sense of personal responsibility for safety is what companies are looking for as next step.  One way to encourage intrinsic motivation is by creating a strong safety culture that values and prioritizes safety at all levels. Another way is by aligning safety goals with other important objectives, such as meeting customer needs or maintaining a good reputation.

The incredible decrease in fatal accidents (70% in 3 years) after the introduction of Life Saving Rules in the chemical industry, and a similar effect (50% in 5 years) in health care after increased attention by the international community, show that intrinsic motivation together with the threat of  reputational damage can lead to needed change.

As individuals, ask yourself: “What personal values do I have that align with safety?” or “How can I contribute to a safer workplace?”

At group level, ask yourself: “Were people sufficiently motivated to take action when needed?” or “Did the safety culture of the organization support or hinder people’s motivation to act?”

These types of questions can help you connect with your intrinsic motivation and become more invested in creating a safe environment.

Courage to intervene

Once a person has decided that intervention is necessary to mitigate a risk, the next step is to choose an appropriate course of action. In this critical phase, the person must also consider whether they are willing and able to take steps to reduce the identified risk, or if they will ignore the risk  and leave it to someone else to address.

Moral courage is a critical attribute in this decision-making process. Those who CHOOSE to take action have put safety above all else. However, those who choose to ignore or deny the risk are often driven by other priorities or hidden motives such as production targets, career advancement, or peer pressure. In such cases, individual economic or status-driven priorities may be prioritized over safety.

Some individuals may not take direct action but instead report the risk to their colleagues and hope that they will have the courage to intervene. However, where serious risks with the potential to create a safety incident exist, immediate action may be required and the reporting option may take too much time. Then, lack of courage to intervene may lead to a safety incident.

So some questions to reflect further: What motivates people to take immediate action to mitigate risk? How can individuals develop moral courage and embrace safety as a value? In what ways can we foster a culture of responsibility and accountability to ensure everyone takes action when needed to reduce risks?

Remedial action

The Risk Reduction Cycle diagram shown below depicts  the last stage as the decision to intervene or not. Depending on one’s courage to act, an identified risk will either be properly addressed or remain untouched and a potential hazard to others. Those who prioritize safety over other concerns will likely take action, and the ongoing effectiveness of their intervention depends on proper follow-up. A robust follow-up process is important, frequently in form of a ‘Management of Change’ process that ensures all aspects of a change are properly and sustainably implemented.  On the contrary, if other priorities prevail over safety, the risk remains unaddressed, leaving the process unstable and the potential for a safety incident remains. Questions you can ask yourself: What would be the impact if I prioritize other concerns over safety? What motivates me to prioritize safety over other concerns? How can I improve my ability to control the systems I’m supposed to manage? How can I ensure that remedial actions are properly implemented? Applying this concept may help answer the question of whether the people involved had the ability and willingness to control the systems they were supposed to manage, and whether proper remedial actions were implemented.   Looking at the Risk Reduction Cycle, do people in your organization live it to its full potential? Which element you think are missing or need to be strengthened in building a proactive safety culture?