Preparation: Risk Assessment

Risk assessment is the art of working out the likelihood of something happening and the consequences should it happen.

We all do risk assessment in a continuous manner during our daily lives.

Simple ones … how we hold and use a knife cutting up tomatoes to make sure we don’t cut ourselves. More complex ones like how we assess traffic, road and weather conditions when we drive. Or when we decide to take a mortgage, go on holiday across the other side of the world.

Risk assessment is a critical component of any long term trip and even more so when the social, cultural and environmental conditions become more challenging. I would, for example, approach travel in Pakistan much differently than a trip through Germany.

I categorise my risks:

  • health & personal
  • financial and economic
  • road risk – other users
  • road & travel risk – my own
  • equipment & technology.

Perhaps it all looks a bit too much. I mean, why the systematic approach?

Part of it is simply training. I use or ‘do’ risk assessment in my professional work as a sustainability expert. So I’m used to approaching assessment of risk in a structured and organised manner. On big projects a whole cross-departments team will be assembled to assess the social and environmental risk of the activities they are planning to do. The idea is to build into the project design risk mitigation such that the likelihood of the risk happening is (significantly) reduced and to determine the consequences should it happen and ultimately to develop procedures and action plans if the risk eventuates.

Part of it is to make sure I am able to understand better where the risk is and how to mitigate or reduce it. I find it easier if I take a systematic approach.

Obvious risks are health and wellbeing. What if I crash? What if I get a cold or flu? What if I cut my finger badly with the knife? What if I break and arm or a leg or get bitten by a spider or a snake or I drink water that’s not ‘safe’ and get diarrhoea?

A big concern is water: how to ensure a suitable supply of good quality water along the more isolated parts of the trip?

Another is food: how to ensure I have a suitable diet to provide my nutrient and energy needs that is compatible for carriage on a bike without refrigeration?

Is there a chance – the risk – that I am ‘over engineering’ the assessment of my risk? Well, yes. I mean most people do sometimes quite outrageous things without really thinking about and not having any problem.

I successfully rode the Lemon around Europe with having a clue what I was getting myself into and no money to pay my way out of any trouble. Risk assessment? Naaaa …

Is riding a bike around Australia really that challenging?

On a 1000m by 1000m basis, whereby each 1000m is treated in absolute isolation from all the other 1000m – in other words: I am not doing a 12500 km trip I’m doing 12 500 1000 m trips – the risk per 1000m is low.

There’s a ‘but’ to this though. Each 1000m is not the same as all the other 1000m. So the 1000m itself becomes a factor in what the risk is.

I have an anecdote: 1981, I’ve sold my Toyota Corolla and now have shiny new bike. It is my FIRST ride, home to university. My friends give me a ticker-tape parade send off from our apartment on the 10th floor of our South Perth flat as I do loops in the carpark and I ride away.

I turn left onto the busy Mill Point Road, then right into the lightly trafficked Coodle St and peddled away towards Curtin University (then called WAIT). I am beaming, smile so bright it eclipses the sun. There’s a car waiting at the stop sign of the road to my left for me to pass, smiling at my smile.

When his face changed to a bad face, a horrified face I knew something bad and horrifying was about to befall me. I look to my right and all I see is the headlights and grill of a Holden Commodore  bearing down hard upon me having run a stop sign. I am sure that grill was full of malevolent teeth and the headlights bitter angry eyes focussed just on me.

I got completely run over. Not a bit of the bike was unaffected. The chainring, that bit the pedals are attached to was bent in half. I bounced and slid down the road losing skin and getting plenty angry.

The trip, my first had not lasted even 2000m.

2013, in the Netherlands where, arguably the good citizens are well educated regarding bikes, I am into kilometre 71 of a 100 km ride. I come to a junction: I want to turn left, there are no cars coming to my right. A car has entered the road I want to cross a few hundred meters to my left. I cross the road keeping an eye to my right in case some car approaches when all of a sudden I hear an engine race. I am on my side of the road but unfortunately the driver of the Seat has seen what I’ve seen … no cars coming against him, and has decided to race around the curve in the road which puts him on my side of the road with me directly in his way. He just didn’t see me. The Santos MTB’s forks do impressive damage to his bumper and my elbow puts a large dent in the rear passenger door as I am flung around and smacked-about by the Seat.

Santos MTB vs Seat. It hurt.
Santos MTB vs Seat. It hurt.

So meters 70-71000 of that ride were completely different to meters 0-70 000 I’d ridden that day.

Clearly which 1000m stretch I am riding has to be figured into my risk assessment. Since that’s clearly impossible I have to use an ‘average’ 1000m and aggregate the risk.

I’ve used a basic 5×5 metric, whereby both Likelihood and Consequence are assigned a value between 1 & 5 with 1 meaning very unlikely to happen and of little consequence if it does and 5 means it will happen and potentially halt my trip if it does.

It is the value of the two multiplied with indicates where I should focus on mitigation.

The table is presented at the end of this blog.

A result of 5 or above indicates something serious.

Running out of water and food for example. I think that’s pretty serious. Mitigation? If all else fails, stop a car! Planning sounds pretty good to.

Too much heat, accidents: broken leg/arm, head trauma, they’re pretty gruesome and potential show-stoppers. I have a classification of accidents based on speed but without assigning possible consequences of the accident as these are accounted for elsewhere in the matrix. I do assume though that the higher the speed and the involvement of another, such as a car, is likely to result in some kind of damage.

Family is the biggest: my dad has Alzheimer’s and if there’s a sudden and significant downturn or some other family drama, that would stop the show pretty fast too.

As would running out of money. Guess I could look for work along the way … Hmmm … not a bad thought.

Unsurprisingly the Australian Horror of snake bite is also a 5. One of them King Browns gets hold of me I’m in a dire position. Avoidance being the best mitigation strategy. Yes, the cover photo is me getting acquainted with a King Brown last time I was in the centre of Australia in 2000. Doubt I’ll do it again this time.

I can of course tweak the result by adjusting the ranking of both the likelihood and the consequence. And I do this. Often. Trying to visualise how the risk could or would materialise and what it would mean. This means my risk assessment does change on daily basis but the important thing is to try to understand my risk.

So I play and tweak and consider the results and play and tweak and consider the results.

And I have my risk assessment.

I also have completed my preparation. Now, time to implement …

Cheers … M

Hannukainen (Finland) & Turtagrø (Norway)

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