Unfortunately, when it comes to risk management, there’s no material safety data sheets, engineering limits or forecasts when it comes to people risks and how they’re going to act, react and behave in any given environment or situation. Even though it’s the most unpredictable and complex factor in the mix, it’s often the least considered and most underestimated. There’s no shortage of stupid people in the world. In fact, many people excel in this area every day of the week and should certainly not be trusted with open flames or power tools, or anything without smooth edges.
The problem is that when you're responsible for people who are unpredictable, or taken to doing idiotic things, it's vital that you watch them and actively manage them. Unlike finding a faulty or damaged piece of equipment and replacing it with a new one, the people risk is far more emotive and complex.
If you can exclude a student from activities who simply will not listen or engage, that could be the best solution, as they drag everyone else down with them. However, often schools are reluctant to take definitive action and sadly, sometimes as leaders, we’re stuck with a compounding people risk until their idiocy negatively impacts on the group and someone higher up in the organisation suddenly realises that what you said in assessing the participant risk has now come true. This is not a situation in which you want to find yourself. It’s worth having good behaviour management strategies in place, such as higher staff to student ratios or modified programs when the people factor has the increased potential for producing adverse risk to the staff and the group.
As with any other individual component of risk, behaviour alone isn’t necessarily critical and with a good leader more often than not, as with every other risk factor in isolation, is not a major concern. However, throw in a bit of bad weather, forget or misuse some vitally important piece of safety equipment and you’re now shaping up for some major issues.
When you’re reviewing your risk management systems, it’s well worth considering the interaction of these three components in the context of your organisation and how you can best address them when running any sort of program. Being aware of how the level of risks escalate as one or more aspects are compromised, will help you to build far greater situational awareness. This keeps your risk management practices alive to ensure safe operations and great educational outcomes.
What is your school’s risk management plan? Do you have one? Does everyone know about it? Do you really know what’s expected of you in regards to your school’s risk management? Is it just about the documents or does it go deeper than that? What’s your school’s appetite for risk? Do you even know what that means? Is the school’s risk management backed up by any sort of budget?
These are some really important questions you should be asking your school administration. With the global pandemic having highlighted some serious challenges for schools and the world, the idea of risk management can feel overwhelming. However, it doesn’t have to be because much of the angst and frustration comes from confusing and contradictory information. Having a solid foundation and understanding of risk management can help reduce some of these concerns now. It is massively beneficial over the long-term for student safety and wellbeing.
Unless we have an idea of what’s expected and or the systems in place for risk management at school, it’s hard to know where to start. Most schools have a risk form, which is often completed by teachers with no real understanding about risk management. This is not their fault but is problematic and an issue which needs to be addressed right across the school to ensure good risk management can be developed and applied consistently throughout the school.
To achieve this, staff need training and annual refresher courses, or extension courses in risk management. The expectations of risk management need to be clear and able to be implemented by every department, regardless of the subject. This will help reduce injuries, incidents and make every activity which is being run safer and more enjoyable for students. Risk management should not be just made up as the program goes, nor should it be just a piece of paper which someone has to fill in. Good risk management occurs weeks, months and years before a school excursion or activity even begins, but so many schools don’t provide training for their staff, which results in bad outcomes for the school and their students.
From years of working in the industry, we’ve seen the same things over and over again and the amount of money and prestige at a school has no bearing on its ability to manage risk. It’s only through good quality training and development that this is possible. Importantly, schools need to allocate money for good quality training, equipment and reviews for all the programs they run which involve a level of risk. Through doing so, this will help build a culture of risk management that results in great educational programs and outcomes for students.