An article by Jared Wade in Risk Management Magazine references the death of luger Nodar Kumaritashvili and includes an email from VANOC head John Furlong relating to the safety concerns about the luge track raised before the Vancouver Games. Furlong wrote: “…someone could get badly hurt… An athlete gets badly injured or worse, and I think the case could be made we were warned and did nothing. Our legal guys should review at least.”

Furlong had the right approach to manage the related legal risk. But do we do risk management only to mitigate our potential legal risks or the risk related to meeting our strategic objectives? After all, the dangers (risks) associated with the course were identified because they were doing risk management!

It is a slippery slope when, after a Loss, lawyers can do Hindsight Risk Management and question the risk treatments/decisions performed in the past. Ask any consultant and they will tell you that risk management is already hard to sell (e.g, easier to sell the cure than the prevention.) But why the hell would any Board of Directors want to entertain an ERM program and a proactive approach to identifying risks when they could get sued for wrongful death or negligence for making the wrong risk treatment decision in hindsight?

Is there less risk doing risk management or not doing risk management? Would it have been better for VANOC to build the track, fill it with ice and send riders to their death?

Someone suggested that if a lawyer had sent Furlong the email about the luge risk, then the email would have be considered privileged and could not be used as evidence against VANOC. (Legal risk management?)

Is that what ERM will become? Will a risk only get documented if it doesn’t create downstream legal risk? Will all risk-related information have to travel through our external legal counsel so the information cannot be used against us? Do we want lawyers sanitizing the list of risks that management knows about to enable blissful ignorance and no lawsuits?

Scary.

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For more of my Vancouver Olympics risk management posts have a look at a these:
You cannot mitigate your risks in hindsight
Timing and severity of risk treatments

On the one year anniversary of the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili at the greatest Winter Olympic Games of all time, emails have been released disclosing concerns about the luge track that claimed the life of the 21-year old Georgian on the eve of the Games.

A year ago, I asked whether the risk management treatments which we implement were influenced by the emotion, timing and severity of the event. Are proactive treatments the same as those we take after someone dies? At the time it appeared as if the “stupid fast” corner where he died was an unidentified risk because organizers didn’t mitigate the risk until after the accident. However, emails written prior to the Games show that Olympic organizers were aware of the risks but chose to “Accept” the risk rather than “Mitigate” it.

If Organizers had sat down to formally measure the impact and likelihood of this risk, their assessment likely have reflected the comments made by Canadian gold medalist (in skeleton), Jon Montgomery, “As far as I am concerned, as far as a lot of my sliding compatriots are concerned, it is an absolutely freak accident that should, and probably will, never happen again.” Based on that quote, a fictional Olympic CRO would have placed the luge risk “bubble” in a corner: Impact = Catastrophic, and Likelihood = Unlikely.

Hindsight is a bitch. But it’s not fair to look back and say, they should have treated the risk differently. Unfortunately, managers often don’t choose to treat a risk until after it becomes an event or as in this situation, when someone dies.

I’ve said it before that I would rather know I have 100 risks which I am accepting or mitigating than think I have no risks at all and doing nothing about; having a risk management process is still better than the alternative. In the case of the Olympics, it appears that they knew the risk was there and chose to Accept it which is slightly better than not knowing the risk was there at all, despite the outcome.