Risk doctor defends M1 closure decision
Posted by APM on 18th May 2011
“We shouldn’t fear risk but challenge and exploit it.” That was the response of one of the UK’s leading risk experts to claims that the closure of the M1 motorway had been ‘overly cautious’.
Honorary Fellow of APM Dr David Hillson, known globally as The Risk Doctor, believes no other course of action could have been taken.
He said: “This incident has echoes of last year when no planes were allowed to fly for five days because of the ash cloud. There was uproar about the lack of flights yet if one plane had crashed, the CAA would never have heard the end of it. If the M1 had been re-opened sooner and then collapsed because of the fire, it would have been the same."
“The two events had only one possible course of action – to shut completely down to allow no room for risk.”
The Highways Agency defended its decision to close the M1 after a ferocious scrap yard fire threatened public safety.
The seven-mile stretch between Junction 1 and 4 was completely shut for four days in April while fire fighters got the blaze in Mill Hill, North London under control.
However, David, a thought-leader and expert practitioner in risk management, believes more can be done to better understand risk, and not just in projects. David is leading a major RSA Fellows initiative into rebalancing British society’s approach to risk and failure.
He added: “The truth is that we are exposed to a lot of risks we don’t know about. We thought nothing could sink the Titanic!"
“The Black Swan theory describes a surprise occurrence that has a major impact, later being rationalised with hindsight. We were surprised by the M1 incident because we didn’t know we were exposed to this risk. Now we know, the question is how we will respond to prevent a recurrence.”
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Transport brings significant benefits, but it also comes with huge costs, long lead times, and high intensity 24/7 operations, making it hard to change. What are your ideas for improving success?
We make risk assessments every day, and generally we do them well. Most of us look both ways before looking the road, and in the same way most of us will survey a site before we allow our projects to start digging.