A ‘High-Risk’ approach to Risk Assessment

Risk Assessment

While the number of issues may seem overwhelming at first, the best approach to risk management and risk assessment is to focus initially on your High Risk programs, facilities and people. This approach ensures you address the high-risk areas first. At a later date, you can ‘loop back’ and address issues/areas not initially addressed in this approach.

For example, if you manage an Ice Arena, you may decide that your highest risk areas are:

  • The ice surface
  • The compressor room.

At a later date you should review other areas, e.g. bleachers, dressing rooms.

There are Three Steps in your planning efforts:

  1. Identify Highest Risk Programs, Facilities and People
  2. Conduct an Audit
  3. Develop Action Plans

Let’s look at step one. Typically you can separate programs, facilities and people into high risk/low risk using one of two approaches (a) Risk Matrix or (b) Risk Rating.

The Risk Matrix (or Probability vs. Severity Grid) is a more ‘qualitative’ tool that can help you determine high risk. While this risk classification system can be quite subjective, it is the simplest approach and you often end up with an assessment of risk level that is quite sufficient for your needs.

The Risk Rating approach is more ‘quantitative’ since you assign actual numbers to Probability (P) and Severity (S), and you end up with a risk rating on an activity or program by multiplying PxS.

For an in depth description on these tools, check out this article on determining your risk profile.

Using the Risk Matrix approach provides a ‘gut level’ assessment of the amount of risk attached to an activity (the qualitative approach), while the Risk Profile process provides a measurable numerical value of the actual risk level (the quantitative approach).

In many situations, the Risk Matrix’s red/amber/grey/green approach is sufficient, and can be particularly useful in assessing a new and immediate potential danger or crisis. For example, if an incident occurs during an intramural game, it can be useful to have staff ask themselves ‘is this a potential red zone situation?’ If the answer is yes, then it is a call to immediate action.

However, from a risk management planning perspective, the Risk Profile approach has some distinct advantages in that it provides staff with a really good handle on just how ‘big’ the risk of an activity or facility is. While assigning P (probability) and S (severity) values to activities can be somewhat subjective, it is an observed fact that consensus among staff is surprisingly easy to achieve when developing risk profiles for different activities.

The next step is to apply risk management controls i.e. what you intend to do to decrease the risk. Types of controls that can be implemented (depending on the situation) are increased supervision, more training, facility inspections and emergency phones.

Once you have looked at the possible controls which could be implemented, you then return to the risk rating exercise and recalculate the ‘P’ and ‘S’ values. Has the risk rating (PxS) decreased as a result of the controls? Is the residual risk (the risk that’s ‘left over’) still too high?

Next Blog: The concept of ‘Residual Risk’


Dr. Ian McGregor is President of SportRisk, providing risk management consulting services to Campus Recreation departments at Universities and Colleges across N. America.

Emily Harbourne was a previous editor for Campus Rec Magazine.

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