06 June 2005

ORM: Could it Save Your Life?

These true life tales of Operational Risk training in the US Air Force are relevant and timely.

The most important lesson I came away with is this: if you do not determine the consequences of your decision before you make it, you’ll be lucky to survive the experience. Risk management has to be more than a dusty copy of an Air Force instruction. It has to be more than an annual training requirement. It must be a constant and conscious method you use to make decisions.

It is better to be smart than lucky. Be prepared: know your limits, know your surroundings and be safe. Your life depends on it.

Thinking about the risks you take can sometimes provide new insights and learning for the future. When was the last time you had your team work through all of the hazards or risks to a project? Are you operating on luck?

Deliberate Operational Risk Management (ORM) uses a process that can be applied in many day to day scenarios:







According to the Naval Safety Center, there are five steps to the ORM process:

Identify hazards

Conduct an operational and preliminary hazard analysis.

Assess hazards

Determine the degree of risk in terms of severity and probability.

Make risk decisions

Develop controls for the hazard to reduce the risk while determining residual risk. Once the controls are in place, make the right decision to determine whether the risk is acceptable for the benefit.

Implement controls

If the benefit of the mission is worth the risk, apply the controls to the lowest risk level.


The decision maker should enforce the controls set and remain alert for changes.

Whether you are in the board room, the conference room, the locker room or the ready room, you have to think ahead about your intended mission and plan for the contingencies. Anticipate the risks and hazards. Prepare for the possible. Prevent the inevitable.

The most sobering story came from the next person in our circle, who told us about a kayaking trip he took on his 21st birthday. Again, the notice was short, and he didn’t give himself time to prepare. The river got choppy shortly after he and his friends began their adventure, and his kayak flipped. Rolling over on a kayak is a common occurrence, but he was not adequately trained to recover. After three failed attempts to right himself, he reached for the pull cord to get out of his kayak.

The pull cord was nowhere to be found. In his haste to prepare for the trip, he had tucked the cord inside the rubber skirt of his kayak.

“At the time, I thought, ‘that’s it, I’m dead,’” he said.

He had been submerged for about 45 seconds.

He changed his mind a few seconds later and tore frantically at the kayak’s skirt to free himself. After struggling for several more seconds, he pulled himself out and swam to safety.

And maybe even more important, relive those times and events where it came apart and you were in danger of missing the deadline, losing the game, or risking injury. That is when you realize that Operational Risk Management is something that has to become almost second nature. Your life could depend on it.

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