Arinite Blog


The Cycle of Risk Perception

Category: Health & Safety | Bryan Richards Twitter | Published on: Sep 14, 2015 | Updated: Dec 12, 2016 Read more: Health & Safety

cycle-riskThis week I gave a talk to the employees of an independent school on health and safety. This included the perception of risk, which was well received. Afterwards, I was approached by the Deputy Headteacher who wanted to open part of the grounds to allow pupils to climb trees. We talked about how this could be managed and I found his approach and perception of risk refreshing.

This got me thinking about the cycle of risk perception and how it changes throughout our lives. As children, we learn from our mistakes by taking risk whereas later on in life we tend to learn from the mistakes of other people. As a child I climbed large trees and played near a local railway line with my friends. Yes, it was potentially dangerous, but we quickly learnt and respected the risks by ourselves. Later, I passed on my experience to my two boys in the form of what they could and could not do, but did these rules restrict them from the freedom I had when playing as a child? Has this generational cycle diluted risk taking?

It has been said that parents protecting children in this way has limited them to being able to make sensible judgements about risk when they become adults. But does it? I think about my sons again. They were both scout explorers, one a rugby player, one a footballer, both competent skiers, went jungle trekking, and travelled the world to see other cultures. This was done in their teens and early twenties. In general, young people today have the opportunity to take part in a whole range of adrenaline raising activities, such as theme parks, tough challenge runs, sky diving, water activities and bungee jumping. Most of these opportunities were not available to me as a child.

In talking to my sons and young people, I see no evidence of risk averse perceptions, just the opposite. So does protectionism and risk averseness stem from our generation instead? Perhaps when our children take over we can we look forward to a better perception or risk? I would like to think so.

The Health and Safety Executive Perspective

In her August 2015 blog on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website, Judith Hackett also reflected on risk perception. It seems (from the Forum of Private Business) that small, low risk businesses are spending money on H&S Consultants and complicated documentation which is disproportionate to the risk. Whilst the blog makes valid implications about overzealous consultants and over complicated documentation, the blog implies that all that is required is simple compliance with H&S legislation.

I Disagree

In our experience, a compliance approach sometimes results in a tick in the box culture with no real commitment to health and safety. We inspire our clients to work towards a positive culture, which does go beyond mere compliance.

Furthermore, we have seen the HSE basic risk assessment template being used inappropriately in higher risk industries. The answer from the client is `this is what the HSE recommends’. If it is then we have to point out that this is intended for low risk small businesses as explained in the HSE document HSG65 which outlines the different levels of risk assessment required for higher risk workplaces.

How to manage risk proportionately?

Arinite helps organisations to manage risk in a proportionate way that also complies with legislation. We keep things simple but we aim to work with clients to develop a positive health and safety culture (see figure 1) where employees understand risks and the preventive and protective measures that have been put in place.

Contact us

Arinite clients appreciate we provide practical, no-nonsense advice about what you need to do to establish and maintain a safe and healthy working environment. My team of health and safety consultants take pride in keeping health and safety simple.

If you need to call upon our expert assistance, or just for an informal chat, please call me on: mobile 0780 361 2948, office 0207 947 9581, or drop me a line at

Bryan Richards 8th September 2015

Arinite Ltd, Warnford Court, 29 Throgmorton Street, London EC2N 2AT

Contribute to this story:   Send corrections | Send photos / videos | Contact us | Comment