Imagine the scenario: you are in the cockpit of a 747 approaching the lights of the runway, when the starboard engine bursts into flames, throwing the aircraft off its gentle downward trajectory towards residential properties—where you can almost see the faint light of television sets in the homes you are potentially about to flatten.
What is your first action? Do you take immediate remedial steps to extinguish the fire while pulling the plane back towards the airfield? Or do you aim for playing fields beyond the rooftops, where you believe there is a 70 percent chance you can land with minimum loss of life or serious injury to passengers or homeowners?
There are no easy answers. As a pilot, you must take into consideration all factors—weather, wind speed, visibility, trajectory, fuel levels, and so forth. More importantly, in this scenario, it is exactly just that—a scenario. The flight deck you are on is in fact a flight simulator that mimics real life-and-death situations where you, as a trainee or even a more experienced pilot, would be expected to make decisive actions at the critical time.
Risk assessment training scenarios like this one are cost-effective tools to get pilots to experience and react to challenging situations without having to put them through the real thing. Thankfully, they will face such a situation on very few occasions in real life, but quick decision-making becomes second nature with preparedness and constant rehearsals.
A Preventative Approach
Emergency risk planning and training has become a major growth industry in the corporate world. For example, the “run, hide, tell” training videos rolled out across the globe inform retailers and office workers what to do in the case of active shooter terrorist incidents. Other organizations offer continuity planning if a bomb, hacker, or natural disaster takes out infrastructure or vital computer servers.
On a more mundane level, the office fire drill—how to leave a building in an orderly manner and where to assemble and be checked in and out of the office—is the everyday training just about every worker or building occupant is familiar with. Although many see it as a disruption to be standing around in shirtsleeves in a blustery parking lot, most begrudgingly recognize its importance should flames ever sweep through the building. They know where to go to be safe.
In the world of loss prevention, many businesses have taken this idea to the next level and introduced “shrink schools” to educate staff about what loss looks like, how to spot it, what behaviors to look out for, where the pinch points are (usually around stock and cash), and even how to identify those most prone to dishonesty within an organization or a team.
Those immersed in the world of total loss also educate their associates about the importance of compliance and how to transform negatives into positives, as LP teams reinvent themselves as agents of sales creation. Knowing where stock is in a world of perpetual inventory means staff have fewer shadows to chase in terms of looking for malicious loss when the prime suspect is poor process.
This preventative back-to-school approach is two-fold. First, it informs staff to be vigilant and help the business to reduce risk and save money. Second, it is a preventative message to deter anyone thinking of committing theft or fraud. It lets them know they are likely to get caught and what the consequences will be thereafter—from losing their job to the heavy burden of a criminal record and a loss of trust for the foreseeable future.
The Strange Case of Mrs. Slipandfall: A Different Kind of Risk Assessment Training Scenario
In the world of workplace safety, such simulated training is also proving to be an invaluable tool and is bringing the worlds of corporate governance together with that of academia. Students studying to become environmental health practitioners (EHPs) at Liverpool John Moores University get to practice and hone their newly learned skills when faced with a room of senior health and safety officers—whom some would suggest are their nemesis or bête noire—the types of people the students are likely to face once they qualify.
These are not desk exercises, but real case scenarios, often set outside of the theoretical world of the university. In the session attended by LP Magazine Europe, twenty or more EHPs traveled 200 miles from Merseyside to the offices and distribution centre (DC) of A. S. Watson, the parent company of Superdrug, Savers, and The Perfume Shop in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, to work with a wide range of retail health and safety officers.
Both students and retailers were faced with a scenario that mirrored real-life challenges, and they worked together in teams to suggest correct ways forward based upon what transpired in an unfolding and evolving situation.
The storyline in Dunstable was one of a fictional store called WonderPill, a health and beauty store with a dispensing pharmacy, 500 stores across the UK, and 9,000 employees. Let’s set the scene.
WonderPill becomes a flagship retailer in a brand new shopping center, one destined to regenerate the fortunes of Brooksea, a once-thriving industrial town now the home of high unemployment, a proliferation of charity shops, and a large and diverse ethnic population. Sheila Maguire is a new WonderPill manager with seven years’ experience in retail both at store and DC level. She has 25 associates answerable to her and a no-nonsense approach to risk and health and safety.
WonderPill sells food, including sandwiches, for the busy lunchtime rush of office and factory workers. The scene is set. Enter Mr. and Mrs. Slipandfall, who are perusing the refrigerated display case when she falls over and injures herself in a pool of water coming from underneath the chiller unit.
The participants were set their first test. Should they RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013) the incident? Yes, they should, and as soon as possible because of the injury. After a visit to Mr. and Mrs. Slipandfall, the team should make a full assessment of the state of the chiller unit because the water, suspected to be a contributory factor in the incident, was reportedly leaking for some time.
But Graeme Mitchell, senior lecturer at John Moores University, had a few more surprises for them. He layered the tale with additional storylines.
Maguire, who we learn from the interview with the “victims” has banned the couple from the store, is now too busy to meet the EHPs who are trying to arrange a store visit because she has a celebrity coming to the store and a large crowd is expected. What do the EHPs need to take with them when they are finally granted an audience? Can they insist upon attending that day despite the celebrity’s visit because of their concerns over the potential cover-up of vital evidence?
And the layers continued to build.
Maguire has form. Further interviews reveal she has supplemented staff payment with out-of-date sandwiches, and at least one employee has been off sick with food poisoning. What do the EHPs believe to be the difference between sell-by dates and best-before dates on food?
What appeared to be a clear-cut case became highly nuanced as the scenario unfolded, making an ostensibly straightforward decision less obvious. It went from a simple customer injury to a scenario where Maguire and her twenty staff could be closed down, adding to the already high unemployment rate in Brooksea and creating a public relations disaster.
Safety professionals and retailers in the room were required to pull from their collective memories and experience to arrive at the relevant regulation and sections with which to proceed and prosecute. The scenario invokes section 20 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, section 14 of the Food Safety Act, and Regulation 6 and 8 of the Food Safety & Hygiene Act 2013. Participants were also required to understand the fine details of criminal cautions under the PACE Act (Police and Criminal Evidence) 1984.
A simple slip therefore escalated into a full health and safety investigation and a mitigation of brand damage exercise. This fact was not wasted on the retailers in the room, who, as part of their day jobs, are required to micro- and macro-manage complex and aged estates, young staff, and legacy equipment, as well as having to deal with managers who pay lip service to health and safety as nothing more than “a bit of common sense.”
Back to the Real World
Darryl Parker, head of health and safety for A. S. Watson, who hosted the event, said, “We find these scenarios with John Moores University invaluable and invite as many of our industry peers as possible to attend. The simulations test the knowledge and experience of those of us risk managers who carry responsibility for health and safety across the business. The students who attend get to challenge received wisdom, and they bring fresh thinking to the event, which helps us all to be better practitioners. It is a win-win for all of us.”
Graeme Mitchell of John Moores University said, “We do a number of these events either in Liverpool or around the country. It helps the student to understand everyday challenges of industry and that all cases are not what they seem—and certainly not black and white as health and safety sometimes has to effectively operate in very grey areas where there are few absolutes. Such exercises help the students to learn from experienced practitioners and serve as a good example of best practice collaboration between the worlds of academia and commerce that can only help to bring more curious EHPs into the market.”
From shrink schools to fire drills, simulation delivers the necessary stimulation of thought to instinctively do the right thing, whether it is cockpit training to avoid a major air accident or role play to prevent a slip-and-trip from escalating into a full-blown chiller thriller resulting in mass unemployment. Crises incubate in everyday scenarios where inaction can be as dangerous as threatening action and where run and hide are no longer options available.
This post was originally published in LP Magazine Europe in 2017 and was updated January 30, 2018.