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Risk Management

Human Error in Sports

The International Luge Federation and Vancouver Olympic officials have said that their investigation into the fatal crash of 21-year-old Georgian Nodar Kumaritashvili on Friday showed that "there was no indication that the accident was caused by deficiencies in the track" and it was the result of human error.( )

Human error is basically an error made by a person, a mistake, a lapse in judgment, a miscalculation. The airline industry, rail, military and medicine have completed a tremendous amount of studies on human factors in major accidents and near misses. Lack of training, inattention to detail, and poor decision making are often the root cause of a significant number of serious accidents and these accidents are expensive in terms of lives and property. Many of these incidents caused by human error could have been prevented / reduced with adaptations, with education and with system interventions.

Human errors have an important influence on risk management and health and safety. Its perhaps time this was taken seriously within sports and events. The analysis of human error and subsequent risk reduction should be a significant concern for all sports; in particular those high risk sports. By addressing the risk management process with a systematic approach to this analysis, human error potential can be managed, its probability reduced and risk controlled.

Back in Canada, CBS News continued on to report that the Olympic officials have since reduced the length of the run, reshaped the ice from the edges in the last turn of the run and erected a 12 foot high wooden wall to cover the exposed steel beams where Nodar Kumaritashvili flew off the track. These are solid engineering controls to the hazard identified; which ultimately eliminate the consequence in the event of human error. Although, officials have said they have modified the exit in the curve, only as a preventative measure " to avoid that such an extremely exceptional accident could occur again".

This tragic incident is an unfortunate reminder that the risk management process should always consider the potential for human error and eliminate the hazard using the hierarchy of controls. Even in sports and events there is the potential to introduce control measures by taking a hard look at how we can influence the human element of risks.

Event Lessons from a Tiger

As alleged mistress No.11 comes forward today, the nightmare for Tiger Woods continues. While his major sponsors have (at this stage) vowed to stand by the biggest sporting star in the world, he has not appeared in public since his now famous car crash of a fortnight ago.Now wind the clock back just five weeks to the 2009 Australian Masters Golf tournament in Melbourne. Here the Victorian Government, the sport of golf in Australia and event organisers for the tournament, enjoyed enormous success from Tiger's attendance and his tournament win. The event had large crowds, significant international media exposure and highly valued brand leverage opportunities for the event's sponsors. But what if Tiger's alleged indiscretions were exposed five weeks earlier? Tiger may not have come to Australia and the investment gamble for many of the tournament's stakeholders would not have paid off. This example serves as a stark reminder to event organisers of the risks associated with the talent or entertainment not showing up.

The causes of such a ‘no show' can be numerous and in many cases outside the event organisers control. But the event's risk assessment and risk management plan should consider the financial impact that such an incident may cause and put contingency plans in place. As was reported in the ABA Law Journal's website, promoters of the cancelled Michael Jackson London Concerts purchased a US$17.5 million insurance policy against his non-appearance "resulting from accident." This is a type of policy that can be purchased by major event organisers and promoters, where significant financial investment is at stake. It has not been publicly reported as to whether a similar policy was purchased for the Australian Masters and if so, how much it cost. It is also unknown as to whether Tiger's current situation would be covered under such a policy although it was originally reported that his injuries sustained in the car accident were in part the basis for his subsequent tournament no-show in Los Angeles at his own tournament this month.

The bottom line is that the risk assessment of every event should consider the ‘no-show' of the event's draw card. Contracts engaging the talent should hold clear conditions for such an occurrence and Promoter Insurance should be considered. If insurance is not a viable option then other contingencies should be prepared.

Educational Institutions and Reputational Risk

The Australian newspaper recently reported that the Indian student market is showing early signs of collapse, with the recruitment body IDP Education Australia reporting an 80 per cent fall in appointments by students at its 14 Indian offices. A severe fall in applications from Indian students for training diplomas and certificates would lead to widespread closures in the vocational sector of the type seen in Sydney and Melbourne over the past fortnight. IDP chief executive Tony Pollock yesterday conceded that a "head-count" survey conducted late last month had revealed an 80 per cent decline in visits from prospective students to the organisation's Indian offices. The Indian market is the sector's biggest growth area but is under threat amid the fall-out from a spate of assaults on Indian students and revelations that students are being exploited by unscrupulous private colleges and fraudulent agents. These recent revelations demonstrate the implications of reputational risks that can affect educational institutions. Although some areas cannot be mitigated; an appropriate Risk Management approach to their reputational risk can assist a University or College in continuing to attract and retain overseas students.

Pandemic in Public Venues and Events

The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) have reported that four more people who arrived on a Qantas flight from LA to Sydney have tested positive for Human Swine Flu (known as Influenza A H1N1). Australia now has a confirmed record of 50 cases of Human Swine Flu, with the figures doubling in the past week.This total includes the positive test results of two children on board the Pacific Dawn cruise ship that has just arrived in Sydney. It is reported that during this outbreak: 130 other passengers were quarantined; the remaining 1800 disembarking passengers were asked to stay at home or in their hotels for up to seven days; and the ship eventually set sail 7 hours late with a whole new crew.The likelihood of an infectious disease shutting down your business may seem improbable. However, as seen in the recent reports there is the strong potential for businesses to have serious OHS and business continuity implications from such outbreaks.

During the initial Human Swine Flu out-break in Mexico, the Mexican government banned public events, issued advisories against gatherings across the country and closed schools nationwide. This move would have left the Venue Managers scrambling to reschedule and reorganize their events.

If Australia were to experience a Human Swine Flu Pandemic this could trigger the same cancellation of major public events and major public gatherings. The possibility of such measures was foreshadowed in last Saturday's SMH.

Risks to the events and venues industries from pandemics, other natural disasters or medical incidents should all be included in the organization's emergency management, crisis management and business continuity plans. An established and well communicated plan will prepare a venue to minimize disruption and resume business as early as possible.

NRL Sexual Misconduct Claims – Another example of Reputation Risk in Sport

More allegations of serious sexual misconduct have once again the potential to seriously damage the NRL's reputation. In a difficult economic environment, allegations of group sex and sexual assault, as made in last night's ABC TV program, Four Corners, may have serious implications for the game's brand and de-tract from the value proposition offered to sponsors of the sport.  Managing such crisis and events that seriously threaten one's reputation is always difficult. Reputation is usually gained over time but can be dashed very quickly.  Great care will now be needed to minimize the consequential loss resulting from the crisis.  Reputational risk management is an area growing in significance in the sport, venues and events industries.  When crisis management is poorly executed it can cripple an organization and its goodwill. An organisation's reputation is arguably its most valuable asset and needs careful nurturing and effective risk management.

Brand, Reputation and Relationship Risk

Ask any CEO of a major venue, event or sport; their organisation's reputation, its brands and its relationships are some of their most important assets. A loss of these can spell disaster for the business, particularly in a world of shrinking revenue's, participation rates and market share. So what are these issues and why are they important?A brand is a collection of associations connected with a service, entity or person. The brand is sometimes described by marketers as the personality traits behind a product or service. If we were talking about the personalities of a brand these traits might include:

  • Their name, look, hairstyle and clothes, (i.e. a venue's name, logo and building presentation); and
  • Their behaviours like a sense of humour and simple approach, (i.e. a sport that is fun and simple to use)

A reputation is based upon people's experience in using the brand. (i.e. whether the sport or venue is safe to use).

Our relationships are critical; with our customers who buy tickets, with our suppliers who are reliable, with the media who support us, and our industry who respects us.

Anything that threatens our brand, reputation or relationships is a risk to the business and should be taken seriously. A risk-based approach to image and reputational risk to manage these threats is important to identify and prioritise these threats and direct resources toward limiting the chance of the threat or its impact. This requires the risk management discipline to be applied to marketing and overseen by the organisation's Executive to understand the risks, and use tools like Enterprise-wide risk management and crisis management planning to help.

Reputational Risk – Important Considerations Linked to Safety

For many safety professionals, safety risk is defined as the level of injury or fatality resulting from a hazardous occurrence. Yet if you asked the public to define safety risk, they may see things quite differently. The safety professionals definition fails to take into account all the factors that invoke an emotional response such as fear, fright or anger which collectively make up factors contributing to a more significant reputational risk through ‘public outrage.’ In a reputational sense some practitioners argue that the following definition exists: Risk = Hazard + Outrage

The irony is that most safety professionals pay little attention to the outrage when considering risk, and the public often pays less attention to the actual hazard. Bird flu was such an example where the fear created amongst the community, far outweighed the reality of hazard.

Experts in risk perception have identified the following variables as some of the contributing factors to this outrage phenomena:

  • Control - The level of control one has over the hazard – e.g. driving the car feels far safer rather than being a passenger
  • Fairness - Where there is a perceived level of unfairness in the treatment of one group over another
  • Morality – Where there are some risks which are not only unacceptable but perceived as evil – e.g. child molestation
  • Trust – Where we feel more empowered and believe as true information about a hazard when it comes from a reputable source

Concerns for these factors are important when making decisions regarding safety hazards and the choices available between alternatives in the management of risk.

Considerations such as these should be at the forefront of all managers and Executives in high profile public and private organisations, major event organisers and large venue operators in the way they communicate risk with their external stakeholder. Failure to do so can be exceptionally damaging to the brand and the bottom line.

Terrorist Attack on Sri Lanken Cricketers – A reminder of the risks

Yesterday's terrorist attack in Pakistan serves as a stark reminder of the inherent terrorist threat that exists for high profile major sporting events. A total of seven players and coach were hurt in a gun and grenade ambush in the Pakistan city of Lahore which left at least eight other people dead. Since the 1972 Munich Olympics where 11 Israeli athletes and officials were murdered in a terrorist attack, major sporting events have represented a high profile target for terrorism. This was reinforced again with the 1996 Atlanta City bombing and more recently in Australia with the alleged 2005 plot by home grown groups to attack the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the AFL Grand Final.

Security risk management and for larger major events, anti-terrorism planning, continues to be an important part of any major event's risk management planning.

Legal Action Against Event First Aid Treatment

Current legal action in Victoria sets to shine the spotlight on the level of medical care provided at events. In the Victorian County Court, a woman is suing Surf Lifesaving Australia and the Lorne Surf Life Saving Club for damages resulting from injuries allegedly sustained while receiving treatment from St John Ambulance volunteers. The woman was competing in several events during an international surf lifesaving championship at Lorne, Victoria in 2006 when she was treated by volunteer first aid officers for a shoulder dislocation. The writ claims this treatment provided by volunteer first aid officers exacerbated her injury, was beyond their capabilities and constituted unlawful assault and battery. This case emphasizes the need for all event organisers to:

  1. Conduct a thorough event risk assessment prior to the event
  2. Match the capabilities of medical services and first aid with foreseeable injuries likely to occur at the event; and
  3. Ensure medical and first aid staff have clear protocols for dealing with injuries that are beyond their trained level of competency

Victorian Bushfires Highlights Emergency Services Duty of Care

As the Victorian Government announces a Royal Commission into the bushfires that have devastated large areas across Victoria, a 2006 NSW Workcover prosecution of that state’s police handling of the Redfern riots, serves as a reminder of the level of care expected under OH&S laws for emergency services in hazardous environments.  In that case, of the 217 police that attended the disturbance, 42 police sustained injuries ranging from psychological trauma to various levels of musculoskeletal injury. The Industrial Court of NSW found that the NSW Police Service had failed in its duty of care to make the workplace that they controlled, safe and without risk.  This is undoubtedly a difficult condition to achieve during civil disorder but still a responsibility under OH&S laws.  The Court found that the risk of injury (not just resulting from injuries but the risk of injury), was great.  It found that the personal protective equipment provided to some police was inadequate and the level of training provided in use of that equipment varied and was in some cases insufficient.  The Court did not however find an absence of relevant policies and procedures for dealing with civil disturbances but rather that those policies and procedures were in some cases inadequate. The Service was fined $100,000 for its breach.

While the proposed Royal Commission in Victoria will undoubtedly look at all relevant preventative and preparedness measures taken by emergency services relating to the Victorian bushfires, given that this natural disaster is unprecedented in Australia’s history, it has stretched many of the human resources available to emergency services across the state.  It will be with interest we watch the response of the Victorian Worksafe Authority in the disaster’s aftermath, given the precedent that was set from the Redfern riots in NSW.

Safety Risk Culture

A positive safety culture leads to both improved health, safety and event risk outcomes. Studies have identified nine broad staff behaviours (referred to as culture actions) as vital to the development of a positive safety culture. As a consequence, safety competency is characterised as an ability to undertake the nine identified culture actions as part of the effective completion of relevant safety and risk management tasks. The culture actions that foster strong safety culture should be demonstrated by senior managers and the Executive.  These include:

1. Communicating your organisation’s values 2. Demonstrating leadership 3. Clarifying required and expected behaviours amongst staff as it relates to risk and safety 4. Personalise safety outcomes so that people see the human cost 5. Developing positive safety attitudes so it is seen as adding value rather than as a burden 6. Engaging and owning safety responsibilities and accountabilities and linking to performance management 7. Increasing hazard/risk awareness and preventive behaviours 8. Improving team member’s understanding and effective implementation of safety management systems 9. Monitor, review and reflect on personal effectiveness of senior managers

Without leading by example and walking the talk, safety and risk management will not get embedded into normal business.

RiskSense - It's Finally Here

After a long wait, it's finally here! RiskSense will be ‘on the market' from January 2009. This product will vastly improve the way public venues, event organisers and the sporting industry manage their risk. We understand the problems people have had with doing risk assessment for events, with attempting to implement enterprise-wide risk management programs and statistical analysis of incident reports. We have the solution. RiskSense is a powerful web-enabled product that is easy to use, educative and that encourages continuous improvement. From early January 2009 more information will be available on the product and how to order a free demo.

The Ben Cousins Saga - A perfect example of Risk versus Reward in Sport

If risk is the chance of receiving a benefit but potentially a loss, then the Ben Cousins saga is a classic example of risk and reward. The challenge for AFL club Richmond, is to balance the chance of loss with the chance of achieving a gain.


As Cousin's options for clubs in the AFL have dwindled throughout 2008, Richmond now appears to be offering the Brownlow medallist a lifeline; but the risks are high.

What is the chance of the reformed drug addict reoffending and the potential damage to the club's brand, reputation and balance sheet through loss of ticket sales, membership and sponsorships? It was only 2005 when the Victorian Transport Accident Commission ended a long standing relationship and sponsorship with the Richmond Club following a drink driving incident involving a Richmond player. It was reported to have cost the club in excess of $500,000 per year.

The opportunities that Ben brings to the club are however considerable. A Brownlow medalist, seasoned midfielder and big potential crowd draw card are obvious. He could add considerable financial value to the club and its brand, if he remains ‘clean'. Onerous drug testing procedures imposed by the AFL and the club may be tolerable depending upon the club's risk appetite and effectiveness of these control measures.

A risk-based approach to decision-making can help sporting clubs make decisions about alternative courses of action. Managing risk is not just about compliance with standards and the law, but is about minimising threats and capitalising on opportunities within an agreed framework.

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