the question of compliance with Building Regulations comes up. It has a sense of deja vu for me. I have so often been in discussions where the question of compliance, with one thing or another, has come up. Now, of course, I am not going to advise anyone to fail to comply with legal requirements. However, I am concerned that people often think thy are doing enough if they comply.
Some regulations may be overprescriptive, but a many are not. Many set out the minimum standard. All too often, people choose to ignore guidelines or advice on best practice, if these have no statutory authority.
Behind the bar.
I can remember a time when a lot of fatalities in motor accidents were the result of a car running into the back of a lorry. That is because lorries are higher than cars and the rear bumper, or some part of the lorry, went through the car’s windscreen, killing the driver and any front-seat passenger. A simple remedy was suggested. Attach a bar to the back of every lorry at car-bumper height. Thus the impact of a collision would be taken by the vehicle, not the driver. It was so obvious, but a lot of lorries did not acquire such bars until they were made compulsory. How many needless deaths occurred in the interim, due to the compliance mentality?
You can probably think of similar examples in your industry.
Are you doing enough?
The aim of Risk Management should not be mere compliance. It should be managing risks. Sometimes regulations can be overprescriptive and work against the better management of risks. We just have to live with them. Or get someone to revise them. But do try to understand why they are there.
What steps do you need to take to go beyond compliance towards best practice, or the most appropriate practice for you?
Some people in government are concerned that schools are overprotective of the children in their care. These people are concerned that children will not develop the ability to identify and manage risks. If someone always holds your hand when you cross a road, you will not learn to watch the traffic and make sensible judgement calls.
Are the concerns groundless?
In my experience, I have encountered this overprotective approach alongside instances of the opposite in the same school. Perhaps some risks were more apparent, or had got onto someone’s check-list, whilst the ‘it couldn’t happen here’ approach ruled for others.
Let’s apply horse sense! They are not overprotective.
I remember the way my mare treated her foal. When it was very young, she was highly protective, but she gradually relaxed her vigilance as the youngster learnt to take care of itself. On one occasion, the foal ran up to an adult horse, making a nuisance of itself. The mare watched but did not intervene. The other horse made threatening gestures, until the foal gave up and left it alone. A month earlier the mare would have placed herself between her offspring and anything that might have harmed it. She was always protective, as far as it was appropriate. Never overprotective.
Can we be as sensible as that mare?
How overprotective are you in your business?
This is obviously relevant if you are a teacher or a parent, but is that all? I think we all need to learn about the risks in our businesses and in our lives and learn to assess and control them. That does not mean running away from them, neither does it mean ignoring them.
Many people have been accused of indulging in hindsight when they have been highly critical of Kensington and Chelsea Council in the wake of the Grenfell Flats fire. I have previously said that hatred and bitterness were inappropriate responses towards the prime minister, and I extend that comment to all those who have been getting the blame. We are all human. The word Murder was definitely wrong.
However, that does not mean that there is no place for criticism.
The defenders of the Council have claimed its critics have been using far too much hindsight. I agree that whenever anything goes wrong there are plenty of people ready to say “I told you so” and others who claim they would have dealt with the situation far better.
What do I think of Kensington and Chelsea Council?
I am very dissatisfied with their response to the criticism. Although we need to let the inquiry do its job and refrain from jumping to conclusions, there are some things we know already. We need not accept a lot of the excuses.
Why am I sure I am not just using hindsight?
Risk Management involves identifying risks and selecting measures to control them. There are requirements for big businesses and all the public sector to have risk management policies and procedures. There is also such a thing as emergency planning or business continuity. Some include that within risk management: others see it as a separate discipline. Whatever!
We know that there had been several warnings about various factors which contributed to the disaster. Yet, even if anyone can justify failing to act on them, there is the question of what happened afterwards.
Why did it seem that headless chickens were in charge?
When I worked for St Helens Council, my boss was the coordinator of emergency planning for the whole of Merseyside. He was often going to meetings with representatives of all the boroughs in the county and from the police, fire service, the NHS and parts of the private sector. They drew up plans for dealing with various kinds of emergencies. Several senior officers in each council had specific responsibilities in the event of an emergency.
Was there no similar thing in London? Was not a major fire one of the contingencies they would have considered?
What do I conclude?
Murder? No.Hindsight? No? Negligence? Yes.
What about us?
I hope none of us will wait for hindsight to be applied before we address the risks in and around our businesses, especially if they might affect other people. And if you are in local or central government…need I say more?
Helping people manage the risks and claims in their businesses and in life.