New European Perspectives on Understanding “Risk”

Two recent articles in European publications discuss results of studies related to

  • how “risk” is defined/perceived, and
  • implementing risk assessment processes

Both articles and perspectives have their foundations in different contexts (one crowd behavior control, one IT), but the conclusions are the same: smaller, more frequent risks are generally ignored, while “headline grabbers” get attention.  Further, the risks that are ignored are likely to aggregate and have material impacts.

In an article from Science Daily, UK Researcher in Organisational Psychology Rose Challenger authored a study for the Cabinet Office UK Resilience.

“There can be a tendency when planning events to prepare for the big dramatic ‘what ifs’ but ignore the smaller, less visible although more likely ones which collectively can cause serious problems,” says Challenger. “It’s important to ensure your risk assessment isn’t blinkered. For example, at Hillsborough there was an over emphasis on hooliganism as that was the big issue of the day, but other more generic safety issues were overlooked. Today, we may tend to focus on the risk of a terrorist attack and ignore more banal risks such as power or transport failures or a gas leak.”

Read the study here.

Similarly, Siri Segalstad, in his article published on, summarized it this way:

People’s perceptions of risk are influenced more by what “sounds scary” than by how likely it is to happen.

Although these studies are from backgrounds unrelated to HSE or environmental management, the results are consistent with Elm’s client experiences in integrating and implementing risk concepts into EHS and environmental functions.  Our risk assessment process is designed to indentify potentially ignored or overlooked issues, map them in a frequency/severity matrix, then identify potential solutions for all the identified risks.  Contact us to find out more.


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