31 December 2005

Managing Operational Risks: On the Wall at 100 Ft...

After five days off taking in the magnificent sights at 100+ feet below the surface off Grand Cayman Island we are reminded how Operational Risk Management is prevalent in even places like this. Take for example the mandate for using dive computers as a guest of Wall to Wall Diving. For those not initiated with Scuba Diving you might not realize that "sensors" are utilized in measuring potential threats to your life from something called "The Bends", or decompression sickness. Giles Charlton-Jones and his wife Deanna from Wall to Wall Diving use a combination of proven Operational Risk Management processes and tools to reduce the risks to their clients. They do this because their small business is no different than that of a Fortune 500 company. As the owners and primary shareholders of any organization it is the law in most cases to provide Duty of Care.

Decompression sickness , (DCS), diver's disease, the bends, or caisson disease is the name given to a variety of symptoms suffered by a person exposed to a reduction in the pressure surrounding their body. It is a type of diving hazard and dysbarism.


Dive computers perform a continuous calculation of the partial pressure of gases in the body based on the actual dive profile. As the dive computer automatically measures depth and time, it reduces the need for the diver to carry a separate watch and depth gauge and is able to warn of excessive ascent rates and missed decompression stops. Many dive computers also provide additional information to the diver, for example, the water temperature, or the pressure of the remaining breathing gas in the diving cylinder. The point is that these sensors attached to each diver help deter and detect potential threats associated with decompression sickness. This even includes a calculation when it is safe to fly on an airplane.

Like other manufacturers in the high technology systems sector, SCUBA has it's own champions of companies who focus on the latest tools and solutions to help you manage risks and to plan for future scenarios based upon collected intelligence. Suunto is just one example of a Finnish company who has been developing instruments for measurement and sensors for various outdoor pursuits whether it be on the mountain at 20,000 ft. or underwater at 85 ft.. Weather and the environment will always play a part in the daily risks mountaineers and divers face and with the use of new tools they can operate in a more safe and secure manner.

Yet without the proper people with the training, experience and intuition all the best tools may not be enough. How often do we encounter situations where the new intelligence collected and the automatic warning alerts are not enough to keep us from harms way?

In a Fortune 500 company, the Board represents the interests of shareholders, as owners of the company, in optimizing value by overseeing management performance on the shareholders' behalf. The Board's responsibilities in performing this oversight function include a duty of care and a duty of loyalty. A director's duty of care refers to the responsibility to exercise appropriate diligence in overseeing the management of the company, making risk management decisions and taking other actions.

It remains refreshing to witness that even on a small island in the British West Indies that smart people are applying the use of Operational Risk management in their own employee-owned business. First, they practice it each day because they are professionals. Second, they do it instinctively because they know that it can mean the difference between life and death.

As we end 2005, we say congratulations to all of those of you who have found the science of Operational Risk. And more importantly, thank you to all of you who have applied your own art to make our world a little more safe and secure in 2006!

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