What is a critical risk and why is it so important?


All risks are not created equal.

A critical risk is a risk that either has a high likelihood or high severity and definitely one that has both. This would be established through your risk assessment and by your incident & near miss statistics. To be fair, if we asked you what your top (critical) risks are, you would probably be able to identify them easily based on your experience, however risk assessment does help quantify and rank these choices.

Breaking it Down

  • Identification = Do you understand what your critical risks are? If not identify them ASAP!! Use your risk matrix to understand your initial risk (before controls) and residual risk (after controls are implemented). Initial and Residual risk sets up critical risk but understand that high consequence and low likelihood and conversely lower consequence and high likelihood can both be critical risks. Understanding what risk is, is really important. Confused? We don’t blame you but don’t get to wrapped up in it. Just use the common-sense rule to start with, if people are getting hurt (or are nearly getting hurt = near miss) and its regularly occurring then it’s probably a critical risk and you need to get your shit sorted ASAP!!
  • Control = Do you have a lot of controls wrapped around these critical risks (engineering & design, SOPS, induction, training & assessments, etc.)? If not, then wrap a lot of stuff around them ASAP!! The higher the level of risk the higher the number of controls that should be in place (as a rule of thumb). Understand that all controls are not created equal. To eliminate the risk is ideal and normally (but not always) relies on designing the risk out. For example, for manual handling risks the use of mechanical handling devices (trolleys etc) can eliminate the need to manually handle goods.
  • Training = Do you provide training and competency assessments for high-risk processes/risks and equipment? If not, then do so ASAP!! Training is critical to control these critical risks effectively and make sure you test competency, i.e., what has been trained has been understood and applied as you expect. Here is a good article on this. https://lnkd.in/g8JR62JS
  • Monitoring = Do you specifically monitor critical risks to ensure what has been communicated, trained and assessed is actually occurring in the workplace? If not, then start formal monitoring ASAP and measure performance!! If you are not monitoring the workplace application of your controls, then how do you know they are being followed and are effective? There will be various levels of monitoring, the more levels there are the more likely you are to detect non-conformances and safe observations. Workers, supervisors, managers and directors should all be involved at layered frequencies. Also, if you complete shift work, do you do night checks?
  • Measuring = Always measure how effective your critical risk program is. How many hazards, near miss and incidents have occurred (LAGGING INDICATORS – the bad stuff)? How many safe observations, inspections, inductions and training have been done (LEADING INDICATORS = the good stuff)? Where you see good things happening in the critical risk space, acknowledge and reward it. Focusing on the positive is something we need to do a lot more of instead of the traditionally focusing on the bad stuff = positive reinforcement is a powerful tool. Don’t be shy providing a token gift and a certificate as a reward.
  • Incidents = Are you experiencing repeat hazards, near misses and incidents in the same critical risk area (does the same stuff keep happening!!)? If so, your investigation process is inadequate, and repeats are going to keep occurring and at an increasing severity level (i.e., it’s only a matter of time until some real serious shit happens!!). Reset, go back and look for commonality in causal and root cause factors and going forward complete good root causal investigations ASAP!! Ensure you have trained investigators in your organisation so investigations can be completed properly.
  • Leadership = Leadership is critical for any business process and safety is no exception. However, if you are going to focus effort on safety then focus on critical risk, don’t spread yourself thin, monitor and measure what’s important and if you are not doing this then reset ASAP!!. Interrogate the data, be visible and get out in the workplace and talk to the workers who do the mahi to understand what they do and how they do it (work as completed and not as imagined). Ask the hard questions when they need to be asked, be inquisitive and curious and don’t accept the status quo. Also, and most importantly, make sure you comply with the critical risk rules/SOPs, nothing worse than a leader who doesn’t follow the rules, very, very bad and guaranteed to lead to an ineffective safety system! Leaders lead the critical risk effort and workers see this and respond positively to it. Be a leader and not a follower.


Because we are not into safety clutter this is the end. However, in summary, all risks are not created equal, so do make sure you identify, control, train, monitor and measure your critical risks. And remember, if you don’t control your critical risks, they may end up controlling you!! Become a critical risk focused company if you haven’t already, it really is better than the alternate which could be a visit to the judge!!

Fletcher Building – the journey to improve culture and critical risk controls » Business Leaders Health & Safety Forum

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