Saturday 4 August 2012

It's An Ass(essment of risk)

That's me:

Dipl-Ing (TU) Katja Leyendecker EurIng CEng CWEM MCIWEM MSc

Try to find my name in that jungle! Believe it or not, letters do count in my world. I am an engineer and of course the letters that really count are the reports, studies and assessments you carry out, read, comment on, check and approve. Day-in, day-out. As engineers we are risk managers. And here's the simple methodology we use.

Once we've identify the significant hazards for an activity, and evaluated their ranking by using the matrix of severity/harm/consequence and likelihood/frequency, we use the hierarchy of addressing these hazards and their risks in this strict order
  1. Eliminate (ACoP paragraph 127)
  2. Reduce (ACoP paragraphs 128–130) 
  3. Inform (ACoP paragraphs 131–134) 
  4. Control is the very last resort and is only to applied if the above has been considered within the "reasonable practicable" envelope.
Control is seen as the poor solution that pushes risk down the system. As a risk assessor, you feel you haven't done your job when it results in sole reliance or over-reliance on control measures.You may have guessed that control methods are things like these: use of personal protective equipment, hiviz, gloves, safety boots and hard hats.

So, that's the basics.

Let's carry out a  risk assessment.

Appropriate cycle safety gear
My cycle safety gear - orange rucksack and orange shoes

Project goal: creating an urban road environment fit for all people.

The urban road environment (as opposed to our motorways) is where we've got a mixed usership: pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, drivers to mention the most prominent. Each user group holding a certain stake in the general urban environment incl living, working, shopping, playing. Some user groups' activities may be more (socially, environmentally, economically) harmful than others, other user groups should be encouraged as they improve place.

Significant hazard: driver / driving / vehicles

Consequence: life-changing injury / death / multiple deaths
Frequency: daily

Risk assessment
  1. Eliminate: make it local, planning policy, spatial/ landuse planning, provide viable alternatives to driving
  2. Reduce: disincentivise driving activity (by cost, time, space), incentivise other modes of travel, re-purpose road space
  3. Inform: national public debate on urban road safety and effect on public health, inequality and fairness, travel choice and public responsibility
  4. Control: make sure that an adequate enforcement and legal system is in place 
Whilst the project goal and hazard identification remains the same, here's the risk assessment as it's currently carried out by road safety / traffic engineer professionals to dream up their promotion campaigns and road schemes.

"Risk" assessment
Road Arms Race

  1. Eliminate: this hazard can not be eliminated as people need to drive, and we don't fancy working with the people in the planning department just down the corridor
  2. Reduce: pedestrians and cyclists to be taken out of the way of drivers for their own safety, though admittedly there are problems with separating out cyclists but as there are so few of them anyways we deem it ok, so: reduce the number of pedestrians and cyclists as that reduces KSIs and gives us a better KPI
  3. Inform: let's put up signs, signs, signs! Everywhere. And go to town on this and spread confusion: tell everyone how dangerous cars are and combine it with positive messages of walking and cycling promotion and provide (free) training to cyclists, by sending mixed messages we'll hopefully keep in the spirit of "reduce" ie we should be able to reduce the numbers of people walking and cycling
  4. Control: promote vehemently the use of PPE by cyclists (we wish they were driving), provide guardrails in abundance and some crossings for pedestrians (we wish they were driving), don't make them too usable though: two-stage crossings are our favs and we have a start-stop approach to our cycle lanes. Ooops, we totally forgot about the environment fit for people part of the project! Ah, well, let's just say people are most happy in cars, after all that's what they want - driving - isn't it? Oh, congestion, well, we solve that by having a local policy on managing effectively our existing road space. Pollution: smoothing traffic flow. Anything else? No? Ok, fine thanks. We submit the assessment to society for approval. Rubberstamped!
Go figure. One thing is clear. It's going to be fat and round, due to lack of exercise. That's what happens when you take your eye of the ball, or the road for that matter.

Dipl-Ing (TU) Katja Leyendecker EurIng CEng CWEM MCIWEM MSc

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