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Snow joke – or how was your risk assessment?


Snow joke – or how was your risk assessment?


Despite dire warnings and the prayers of many island children, snowmageddon didn’t quite make it back to Guernsey last week. But the island reacted as though it did.  In the much warmer light of the last few days, what actually happened?   Let’s look to the State Schools.


On Monday everyone was anticipating some snow the next day, but Wednesday night – that was going to be mega. We had been issued yellow snow warnings (stop sniggering at the back!), and the impending doom had a name – the beast from east.  Plans were put in place for working from home, and people were buying everything but loose sprouts from the supermarkets to stock up for the anticipated island lock down.


Tuesday morning came, and it was a bit chilly with some ice and snow in mainly the higher parishes. The island schools made their risk assessments and gave what seemed to be eminently sensible calls based on their individual situation, some closed, some stayed open. Then central control stepped in, and suddenly all the state schools were closed.


This caused confusion and ill feeling – children were on their way to school and being turned away from the school gates and sent home. It snowed on and off throughout Tuesday, but the roads stayed mostly passable with sensible driving, and of course the gritting services of States Works.  But a big freeze was predicted for Wednesday night and central control made a call on Tuesday evening and called the schools closed for Wednesday.


The big freeze came as anticipated, and Wednesday dawned bright and clear – with roads mostly drivable by 8.00am as long as you were sensible. Yes, some of the roads in higher parishes had challenging sections, but did all the schools really need to be closed?  Risk assessments on Tuesday evening said yes.  Would they have said the same on Wednesday morning?


Thursday of course came with red snow warnings. Red warnings are issued for snow when there is a widespread risk from slips and falls, travel routes will be cut off and whole communities isolated.  This was snowmageddon revisited!

Schools were pre-emptively closed for Thursday, the airport said it would be shut all morning for snow clearance, flights were cancelled, supermarkets declared themselves as shutting (special offer on those sprouts?); the island was ready for a day off.


Thursday dawned of course to no snow, clear roads and still closed schools.   The risk assessment on Wednesday evening said close it all down – probably correctly – the reality in the morning?  Not so much.


In the above example we see what seemed a sensible risk policy (schools make their own decisions on the morning) was over-ruled by a central commissariat who put in a ‘one size fits all’ policy. Was their judgement coloured by public opinion?  We saw risk assessments that were almost certainly correct when made, prove to be overly cautious as the situation developed.    Could those centralised risk assessments actually be as accurate as risk assessments made on site?


The underlying message from this should be is that however good your risk policy, whatever mitigation you put in, your response may ultimately turn out to be the wrong one.   What matters is how you then handle the changing situation and how you then go back to review your existing policies.


Which of your business risk policies are centralised policies which don’t necessarily fit your own situation? How flexible are your responses?   Have you factored in reputational risk to operational concerns? Do you change your mind when things don’t pan out as expected?  Do you go back and change you assessment and your policy?  If not, why not?


Monitoring and reviewing your prudential business risk policy should be a key part of your corporate governance programme, and indeed how it is monitored and reviewed should form part of your compliance monitoring programme. Are they fit for purpose?


Call Active Group for a review.


And please spare a thought for those who were adversely impacted by the ‘beast from the east’ in the UK which made our own snow trials and trepidations seem trifling by comparison.