Acceptable Risk as a Decision Making Process

Acceptable Risk as a Decision Making Process

By Dr Rob Long – first published here:

Use caution when swimming because sharks are presentWe should all know that the assessment of risk is a subjective process, determined by hundreds of social and psychological factors. The idea that risk assessment is a rational process via assessment of frequency, consequence and severity is contradicted by the evidence (Kahneman, Weick, Slovic etc). Most decision making is not a slow rational process but rather a quick aRational (non-rational) process. This is why the handbook to the Risk Management Standard (ISO AS/NZS 31000: 2009) HB327:2010 Communicating and Consulting About Risk takes such a strong focus on heuristics and other social psychological influences of judgment.

The WHS Act and Regulation is full of language that substantiates the subjectivity of risk assessment. For example, As Low as Reasonably Practicable (ALARP) and Due Diligence. Words such as ‘adequate’, ‘relevant’, ‘reasonable’ and ‘appropriate’ thread through the legislation and regulation providing a field day for lawyers and the courts to deliberate on definition as indicators of culture. Interestingly, there is nothing in the act that suggests that injury data should be kept as a cultural measure. Even when people seek definition of terminology in the Act this too varies according to context.

There is nothing wrong with the assessment of risk being subjective, so lets not deceive ourselves and suggest risk assessment is an objective, scientific or mechanistically determined activity. The beauty of the subjectivity of risk is that it allows humans to make flexible and fluid judgments according to context, variation and situation. On most occasions heuristics work well as a decision making factor, it seems when things doesn’t work people dream up systemic causes in hindsight, that failure is associated with some rational process. Then, the regulator or systems people develop new and more complex systems to compensate for a wrong judgment when in fact, that is not how judgments are made. READ MORE >>>>>>

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