Skip to content
Controlling Risks with a Different Perspective

Controlling Risks with a Different Perspective

We tend to think of risk as a potential danger and controlling risk as removing the danger. These are partly accurate, but only partially. There’s opportunity and efficiency in expanding your understanding, and that’s what we’d like to help you with in this article. Those who will not risk will not win; this is true. But it is also true that those who ignore risk will not win for long. Let’s expand our concept of risk and our capacity to control it. 

Specifically, we will take a look at:

  1. What is Risk? 
  2. What is risk in the ISO and Construction Context?
  3. Considering the Processes in Controlling Risk.
  4. Seven Tips for Controlling Risk.

What Is Risk?

Our world is unpredictable; nature, people, business, politics, culture, everything. You can reasonably argue that unpredictability is so likely that it’s almost predictable - but if you go too far down that thought, you’ll blow a brain cell or two.  

Because of this unpredictability, every project we run has elements of uncertainty. Everything is subject to unforeseen influences, and everything is vulnerable to change. This is our shared reality. This unpredictability, and its effects, is what we call ‘risk’. We, therefore, start with this basic definition of risk: 

Risk is the effect of uncertainty. 

But we don’t want to stop there. We want to control risk, and today, we want to explore the issue of perspective as it affects our workplace. Therefore, we should tighten our focus and pay attention to business and construction risks.

What is Risk in the ISO and Construction Context?

We should begin with awareness: workers and the public may not have a helpful view of risk. Let’s consider three perspectives on the topic:

  1. The general public and young workers, who tend to view risk as a potential event, 
  2. Business executives and professionals who focus on risk in terms of its outcomes, and
  3. The construction and safety professional who sees possible safety outcomes - and pursues the better ones.  

To better appreciate this, consider Joanne Citizen and young apprentice Joe Toolie. When Joanne and Joe consider the risk of it raining tomorrow, they consider it an event. They focus on the event of rain. 

The business person views the risk of rain differently. They think about what outcomes the rain causes, especially the impacts on economic performance and professional reputation. Project management issues might flow through their mind, drainage equipment they will have to organise, supply chain and delivery schedules, added costs, potentially missed deadlines, perhaps financial penalties, and more. The business owner views risk not as an event (rain) but as its effects on outcomes and goals. This is why the primary ISO standard for risk management in business (ISO 31000) defines risk as the ‘effect of uncertainty on objectives’.

But the safety-oriented construction worker, supervisor or business owner must go beyond events and broad outcomes; they must think very specifically about work health and safety issues. This is why the primary ISO standard for risk management in OH&S management (ISO 45001) is so focused. It defines OH&S risk as the:

“Combination of the likelihood of occurrence of a work-related hazardous event(s) or exposure(s) and the severity of injury or ill health that can be caused by the event(s) or exposure(s)”

So, let’s put that word salad into a manageable mouthful: 

To control risk in an OH&S setting, manage the effect of uncertainty on safety.

Considering the Processes of Controlling Risk.

We could use various terminologies and models, but we’ll use a four-step risk control model to unpack the topic today. It includes the following processes:

  1. Identification,
  2. Risk assessment,
  3. Risk control planning, and
  4. Implementation and management.

Let’s use a home kitchen scenario you might recognise (or at least can imagine):

Imagine you are standing in a kitchen, placing items into the warm and bubble-covered dishwashing water. You like to give everything a soak before you clean it. You grab the handle of your extra sharp chef’s knife (a hazard) and are prepared to drop it into the water when you have a thought: you could easily and severely cut yourself with this knife. If you plunge your hand in later, pick it up badly, or otherwise contact the sharp edge while reaching for something else, it could end badly. This is the IDENTIFICATION stage of identifying a hazard; this time, it only required a moment.

As something inside you mocks your caution, another part of you thinks about the possible consequences. This is the RISK ASSESSMENT stage. You consider the potential wound, its severity and, of course, the pain. The responsible adult within you also speaks up, reminding you that a severe injury to your hand will impact your ability to work, and those consequences on you and your family could be huge. So, you tell the mocking part of your brain to shut up and decide to think it through. 

As you hold the knife above the water and the items already submerged, you consider the likelihood of that happening. In a moment, you have an awareness of both the mild and severe injury consequences and an approximate probability of them happening. 

You decide that caution is appropriate. Another moment has passed - and according to my grandma, two moments make a smidgeon. So we’ve invested a smidgeon so far.

You then consider your options as you enter the RISK-CONTROL PLANNING stage. How can you negate the risk? If not, can you reduce the likelihood of it happening or mitigate the consequences? Not washing the knife is an option - but that would be silly. You could wash it now, without soaking it, and keep the hazardous edge in your sight and awareness. Alternatively, you could let it soak by putting its sharp edge down on the side of the tub, perhaps wedged behind the also submerged salad bowl on the left; that way, you can protect yourself while washing other things and also remember where the knife is. 

Another couple of moments have passed. Two smidgens. And two smidgeons make a second. 

You make your decision: you’ll wash it immediately, without soaking, and with care! Doing this three-second wash is your initial IMPLEMENTATION AND MANAGEMENT stage. You have averted danger; only four seconds have passed - three seconds of washing and one second of risk control. 

You then move the knife toward the dishrack - but wait… there are new risks. Where and how will you place it? What if others don’t know it’s there? What if your spouse or kids unpack the rack, and it slides out and off the bench into their foot? Aargh! So many uncertainties. So many risks. So another controlling risk sequence begins.

Eventually, you dry the knife, put it away, and finish the dishes. As you finish up, you remember your 13-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son are in the living room, and it occurs to you that controlling risk isn’t only about avoiding immediate dangers. It also has elements of communication, protocols, training and culture setting. 

“Kids,” you shout out, hoping to be heard above the sound of the game they’re playing. 

Immediately you hear the chirpy chorus of, “Yes, Dad!” as they pause their game and run into the kitchen. You turn to see their enthusiastic and angelic expressions as they, just like the family Labrador that trots in with them, all look up at you with overwhelming love, admiration, respect and devotion.  

(Yeah, I know it doesn’t really work that way, but I’m telling the story). 

“I almost cut myself with a knife,” you tell them, “And it got me thinking.” You turn to your seven-year-old and say, “When you’re on dishes, I don’t want you to clean anything sharp. Just leave it on the counter. Okay?” 

He nods thoughtfully in appreciation as he bathes in the warm glow of your parental love and wisdom. “If you say so, Dad.” 

You then turn to your 13-year-old and say, “You, on the other hand, are old enough to do this, so come here and let me show you how to do it safely.” 

Pleased by this honour and opportunity, her cheeks flush with colour and anticipation. She responds, “Really?! Thank you father!” Then your Labrador adds an affirming, “Wuff a great dad you are!”

(Enjoy the dream. I’m telling the story.)

And those are the processes: identification, assessment, planning and implementation (with management).

But how? Here are Seven Tips for Controlling Risk.

We’re going to suggest seven risk control strategies. Some you have probably thought while others might be brand new. Either way, they’re all valuable and have a place in most construction worksites and enterprises, and they all rest on the awareness that controlling risk is not just about removing them. These tips include:

  1. Creating Assumption-Free Zones.
  2. Checklists.
  3. Time.
  4. Going Blind.
  5. Diligent Record Keeping.
  6. Using the System.
  7. Greenhorn Reduction.

Controlling Risk without Assumption.

As has been wisely pointed out by many comedians, when we ASSUME, we often ‘make an arse out of you and me’ (ASS/U/ME). That’s because no worksite, workspace, or work activity is exactly the same. Each has unique variables, and we should never assume that what was true before or elsewhere will also be true here. This is a foundational belief system. 

Controlling Risk with Checklists.

When it comes to controlling risk, checklists are among our most valuable resources. A well-designed checklist makes your life easier; it clarifies standards and expectations, allows your workers to understand what is required, and delivers satisfaction and confidence as items are ticked off. Just ask the watch manufacturer as he checks his final product: Does the big hand move clockwise? Tick!

Here’s a checklist mindset worthy of adopting: if it’s significant to safety, it belongs on a checklist.

We have two checklists that are commonly and widely used. These are our Site Safety Checklist and our Hazard Identification Checklist.

The Site Safety Checklist was inspired by the constant change that takes place in worksites and workplaces. New hazards are created, and unknown risks can exist. It includes three pages of prompts for daily site checks. You can purchase it individually or locate it within our WHS and ISO 45001 OH&S Management Systems.

Our Hazard Identification Checklist is an easy-to-use reference tool. It empowers workers to effectively identify hazards in the workplace, worksite, work processes and procedures. An easy-to-use but thorough nine-page resource, it works best as part of our Risk Management Procedure but still has great merit as a stand-alone resource.

Like the rest of our safety solutions, these are user-friendly, instantly downloaded, fully editable using Microsoft Word, you can add your logo and make additional customisations (which we encourage), and they are incredibly affordable. 

Sadly, checklists are also an under-appreciated asset. You can change that, however, by:

  1. Raising your own appreciation for checklists,
  2. Use them, and be seen to be using them, 
  3. Require their use and retention, and 
  4. Teach your team to think and act in the same way.

Controlling Risk with Time.

We all know that time is one of our most valuable assets. This is also why the way we spend time is so important. When it comes to controlling risks, make deliberate decisions to:

  1. Allocate sufficient time to it.
  2. Allocate specific periods to it, 
  3. Structure and guide how that time is invested (e.g. using good quality checklists), and
  4. Be diligent about recording the time you invested. 

Both Workers and regulators know that controlling risk is a time-intensive process. There is a minimum investment, and observers get an idea when your approach is to do the minimum. The reverse is also true. Suppose a fatality, tragedy or mishap happens. In that case, you want WorkSafe investigators to see that you responded to your duty of care with appropriate due diligence, and you want them to see the evidence of time spent. That will help. So will the quality and completeness of your resources.

Controlling Risk Through Blindness.

You can increase the effectiveness of your risk assessments by using ‘blinding methods’, which control the information a person has. There are a variety of ways you can do this:

  • From time to time, get your workers to conduct fresh hazard and risk assessments without knowing what was identified in the past. 
  • When doing risk assessments or other safety-related checks, get more than one person to do the evaluation, get them to do this independently, and then compare the result.

Try it. You’ll likely be amazed at what fresh eyes can notice that seasoned eyes have come to ignore. Your business will only benefit from these additional checks, as an unidentified hazard can pose new potential risks. Never assume that every worksite is the same!

Controlling Risk with Diligent Record Keeping.

There are regulatory standards for recordkeeping, and our comprehensive Safety Management Systems, Management Plans, Safety Documents and other Resources are all designed with this in mind. There is room for individual licence and creativity, which is why quality varies so much between template providers, but no matter how good the design is, it is your diligence in record keeping that will most likely impress or irritate the inspectors.

Controlling Risk by Using the System.

You’ll find that WHS and OH&S resources all interact with a central whole. They’re like those spirited, loving and compliant kids I was telling you about. They know their place within the family of safety and risk control. 

When resources indicate their connection to parts of a more extensive system - and our systems do this for you - take the time to explore the links so that all your resources and risk management strategies work together. You may never get an adoring Labrador stare from your WorkSafe inspector, but you might get a satisfied grunt.

Controlling Risk with Greenhorn Reduction.

Finally, you may have noticed the recurring themes of bringing others into the process and making it a more positive approach. This is especially true when dealing with workers that are new to your worksite. Let their fresh eyes show you what you might be missing, and let your diligent and professional approach bring them into a place of improved safety and care.

In Closing

To control risk in an OH&S setting, you must manage the effect of uncertainty on safety. You can do this by understanding risk in your context, the processes by which we control risk, and using wise strategies (such as the seven tips we suggested). 

Remember also that there are great resources to help you. The ones we mentioned were:

Remember, we’re here for you. We recommend calling because as we help you with your initial questions, we can quickly recognise and resolve the new ones that come up. Phone 1800 304 336 to talk with a safety expert who has served on construction front lines. There are no greenhorns on our team - and there are also no salespeople.

We look forward to your call.


Definitions sourced from
Previous article New Resources and Hacks for Managing Contractors
Next article Using Safe Work Method Statements as a Leadership Tool