Timing and severity of risk treatments

Are risk management treatments that we implement influenced by the timing and the severity of the event? How about emotion?

In hockey, a player is penalized 2 minutes for a high stick to the face of another player; but the penalized player is given a 4 minute penalty if the other player bleeds. The action is the same, but why is the punishment a function of the outcome? Should that matter?

On February 12, 2010, hours before the opening ceremonies for the Olympic Winter Games, Georgian luge athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili died after a crash during a training run. As a result, a couple of things happened: They lowered the men’s start to the women’s start (to slow down the course) and built a wall where the accident happened to ensure other athletes were not injured in the same place. (But in doing this, was this admission of guilt or good risk management?)

From a risk management perspective, the “stupid fast” risk of the track was determined to be acceptable and was signed off by the IFL. Not having the wall where the luger was killed appears to have been an unidentified risk.

Now what if Mr. Kumaritashvili had only sustained a broken leg? What if the accident had taken place during a training run in 2009 instead of on the eve of the Olympics? Would the actions have been different? Perhaps they would have built the wall, but would they have reduced the speed too for the Winter Games?

Timing and public relations (read: emotions) certainly had something to do with these actions. When your organizations develop risk treatments, keep this in mind.

Some additional facts about the track and the athlete courtesy of the CBC:

Mr. Kumaritashvili was ranked 44th out of 65 lugers on the world cup circuit but was considered experienced enough.

He had taken 26 runs on the Whistler course and others have taken 1000s of runs on the Whistler course already.

He was traveling 145km/hr at the time of the collision.

It’s a fast track, ¼ of the width of the Salt Lake track at 97m wide with a 48-story vertical drop, so curves are very close, back to back.

There were complaints about the track.

Luge blinds were coming down during the training run.

5 thoughts on “Timing and severity of risk treatments

  1. There is no doubt that risk mitigation approaches are influenced by emotion. The luge track is a good example. Personally I don’t think emotion can ever be removed from the risk management process (not sure if I would want to). There’s just too much judgment and subjectivity involved.

    The advantage that businesses have over the Olympic luge officials is that businesses can and should revisit their risks management plans periodically. At the time of the review, it’s a good bet that the emotions will be different which will bring some parity into the process.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post!

  2. Emotions play a larger role than we like, perhaps because they do not fit neatly into analytical tools. Emotions can also be expensive.

    How many project managers running “problem projects” are fired on the grounds that “someone has to pay”? How often do the people making the decision to fire the project manager pause to reflect how much the “problem project” may have taught the manager – and how much the decision to fire the manager will cost them?

    Most people learn more from their mistakes than they do from their successes and for many reasons, several of them emotional. Emotions definitely play a role in risk management and periodical review is one of the few tools we have to address them. The saying “safe as houses” probably rings differently in most investors’ ears today as opposed to three years ago.

    Thanks for the post.

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