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Risk versus Safety

A constant battle which has raged for many a year and shows no sign of slowing down is that of risk versus safety. With supporters on both sides who will fiercely defend their belief and vehemently decry the other, it means health and safety has become an extremely divisive subject.


How Much Risk Should be Tolerated?

One of the central issues revolves around the level of risk that should be tolerated and allowed to exist. For some, any risk no matter how slight should be eliminated if it is within a person's power to do so. This typically involves cancelling events and banning certain activities taking place. At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who believe that life is by its very nature a risky enterprise and that things should just be enjoyed and hope nobody gets hurt.


A Happy Medium for Risk?

Somewhere in the middle of these polar opposites, at varying degrees between them, lie the majority of people who take a more balanced view. Their belief is that whilst they accept that some degree of risk is associated with everything in life, there should also be suitable precautions taken to minimise the danger. The key word here is suitable. Rather than a blanket ban on anything and everything, each situation should be carefully considered and the potential dangers contemplated in a risk assessment, which will then be used as a basis upon which to introduce various safety measures which minimise the danger to health. This can include a number of different things including health and safety training courses, automatic safeguards, emergency evacuation plans etc.


Attempting to eliminate all and every risk is an impossible task. Those trying will never succeed. They may think that the world is such a dangerous place outside that sitting quietly indoors is the only safe thing to do. But what happens if the ceiling beams are rotten and it collapses? Or a meteor lands on the house? Or they fall asleep and a spark from a plug socket causes a catastrophic fire? However low the probability, nothing can ever be ruled out, and so it must be accepted that danger exists all around and can only be reduced down to acceptable levels rather than totally removed.


Of course, these "acceptable levels" is the contentious point which will vary from person to person. When trying to weigh it up, the calculation will often involve the probability/likelihood, and the potential damage that could be done - e.g. would it result in certain death or just bring about an illness which, even though unpleasant, can be easily cured?


An Example - The Risk of Flying

In regards to the probability, take the following example. There is no denying the fact that quite a few people have been killed over the previous decade in aircraft disasters, so there is obviously a certain level of risk involved with getting on a plane and flying. Despite best efforts, it is highly likely that others will also die in aircraft-related incidents in the future. Some people would therefore argue that as there is a risk of death, all flying should be banned, as even if one death can be prevented then surely it is worth saving that life?


Therefore banning all flying would save lives. However, the reason it is not done is because there are literally thousands of flights each day which pass without incident, so much so that flying is actually considered the safest mode of transport statistically. The likelihood of people being killed or injured is so low that it does not justify a total ban on flying and the negative effect that not being able to travel to any location by plane would have on the world's population (they could go by boat, but boats can sink!).


Talking about human lives as part of a risk/reward scenario sounds rather callous and uncaring, but the truth is that a decision not to ban flying is made on this basis, as authorities weigh up the lives that would be saved versus the detrimental effects which would be felt by the entire world were no passengers or cargo allowed to fly anywhere.


Rather then blanket banning flying, authorities enforce strict conditions and requirements from aircraft owners and operators to ensure that they do everything they possibly can to make their aircraft safe and get their passengers to and from their destination without harm. These include aspects such as thorough and regular maintenance, training for pilots and ground crew, limitations on working hours, limitations on operating conditions such as wind speed or visibility etc.


As alluded to earlier, if flying were to be banned, people would have to go by boats which can sink, or trains which can derail, or cars which can crash. This is a prime example of risk never being able to be eliminated; even if one form of risk was somehow closed off it would still just lead to an increase in an alternative, which in this example would be even more statistically-risky forms of transportation than flying.

Need an Accredited Course?

Along with designing bespoke health and safety training programmes, we also run the accredited NEBOSH, IOSH and ConstructionSkills (CSkills) health and safety courses as open courses at selected venues across the UK, as well as in-house for those companies who have a number of employees requiring the training, as it will be much more cost effective than sending them all onto a scheduled open course.


For more information please call 0115 984 9940 to discuss the options or send us an online contact form. Alternatively, use the "Courses" menu at the top of the page to view the courses and qualifications for the various awarding bodies.