Thursday, 31 July 2008

Careless Talk Costs Jobs

We have all enjoyed a good laugh at the Government's expense over their loss of computers and personal records. Yet I wonder how savvy we are when it comes to protecting sensitive information regarding our work.

Everyday on the commuter train you can hear detailed conversations of business contracts, disciplinary procedures and named individuals. Less obtrusive, but potentially even more damaging are those who work at their laptops on company documents with people standing or sitting next to them and well able to view what they are working on.

The same relaxed attitude is true of guests in restaurants and people talking or working on flights. I have seen documents across an aircraft aisle relating to a company which I was very familiar with, being worked on by a Japanese executive, which led me to believe that he was running his slide rule over them with a view to taking them over. A former Chairman of mine bragged of overhearing a conversation in a restaurant which led him to bid for the work under discussion and obtain it.

"Careless talk costs lives "was a watchphrase of World War2. We don't face such dire consequences but perhaps we need to revive it to read " Careless talk costs jobs" - starting with our own.

Too close for comfort

Well,well who would have thought it, the Transport Research Laboratory has found that 10,000 accidents in 2006 were caused by tailgaiting, the practice of driving right behind the car in front in an effort to intimidate them to move over or because you don't want anyone to cut in. Such car owners are known in the Welsh Valleys, I am reliably informed, as dog drivers - work it out.

Then there was the information that 90% of motorist were tailgated when they kept to the speed limit and only 50% when they drove without regard to it. It doesn't say how many of these are Central Lane Only Drivers (CLODs to the police) who add to a journeys' frustration.

The only three reliable risk management ploys I have come across with regard to tailgaiters are 1. to fit a switch to the dashboard to flash the brake lights without braking - one of my sales managers used this very effectively - smart man - he was also the only sales man in our electronic component company that Alan Sugar had time for 2. Follow the sensible advice of an American friend - drive so you have fast idiots in front, slow idiots behind 3.Have a number plate like my mother's - R2NEA -she has never been in a tailgate accident in 72 years of driving, but then she doesn't do motorways these days.

Friday, 25 July 2008

It's none of his business

Steve Jobs has been criticised for not being frank with his shareholders about his health. He has had one bout of cancer some years ago and the speculation is that he may be suffering a recurrence.

Any shareholder who buys Apple stock on the strength of Jobs being at the helm, must recognise that they are taking on an unusual set of risks. On the upside there is Jobs' extraordinary ability to develop new products which the world then realises that it wants extravagantly. On the downside there is the possibility, just like anyone, that he might not last out the year and the fear that he is irreplaceable.

There is no key man insurance big enough for Steve Jobs and the shareholders must accept that and not bleat about wanting to know the intimate details if he does not want to give them. You buy Apple stock for the ride and if it gets too scarey, jump off.

There's nowt so queer as folk

Looking at some of the news stories I am continually amazed at the low probability high impact stories which surface. It is, of course, the low probability which provides for the surprise element.

Talking of "surprise element" one of the stories was the tragic tale of the Polish visitor to England who relieved himself on the railway track. Not a problem in Poland where, if I remember rightly, the electricity cables are overhead. Sadly in the UK with the live rail right next to the usual track his mistake was fatal.

Then there were the three US crew who were found asleep on the job. Problem was that their job included access to nuclear weapon codes. Question I would like an answer to is" what were the conditions that made them all doze off?" Then it turned out we had not been in as much danger as it seemed as the codes they were guarding were out of date. Maybe we should go back to using geese, at least they don't sleep on the job.

Then there was the report that there have been 300,000 traffic accidents which have been caused, it was claimed, by SatNav, or rather by listening to SatNav and not using enough gumption. Imagine what a swarm of lemmings could do with SatNav - they might avoid going over the cliff. Unintended consequence.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

The hammer and the aircraft carrier

An American aircraft carrier set sail from San Diego after a re-fit with a number of fitters still working on board. Three hours out one of the fitters reported that he had lost a hammer in an area which was potentially dangerous to the ship's operation and its safety.

The Captain immediately ordered the ship back to port, where after a fairly extensive search the hammer was found.

The punishment for the fitter? To be decorated for having the guts to own up to a mistake which could have badly damaged the ship. A good example of Think Risk, Smarter Decisions.

I don't think this is apocryphal, but I can't remember the original source. Let me know if you do.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Licensed to Hug

In the months after 9/11 I had a call from Frank Furedi, the Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent. He wanted to research the reaction to 9/11 and he needed to talk to risk managers and he needed funds. I arranged for AIRMIC to provide the risk managers and Lloyd's the funds. The result was Frank's report, which went out under the sponsorship of AIRMIC and Lloyd's called "Refusing to be Terrorised". Well worth reading.

Now he has just published with Jennie Bristow, a new report "Licensed to Hug"about vetting adults who work with children . Here is a brief section from his website on the subject- once again Frank is dealing with the fears of society and exposing how we are in the grip of idiots:

"The alleged protective effects of a system of vetting are largely illusory. Aside from the fallibility of record-keeping and technical systems, vetting takes into account only what somebody has done in the past. The most sophisticated system in the world cannot anticipate how individuals with a clean record might behave. Thus, the CRB provides little guidance about people’s behaviour in the future. It provides the impression of security, but not the substance. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the national vetting scheme represents an exercise in impression management rather than offering effective protection. Vetting measures also fuel suspicion about adults. In that sense, they are not just harmless rituals, but negatively influence the conduct of adult-child relationships.

Although proponents of the scheme contend that it is designed to prevent “worst-case scenarios”, the very institutionalisation of the scheme encourages worst-case-scenario assumptions to become the norm. One consequence of this process is that adults feel increasingly nervous around children, unwilling and unable to exercise their authority and play a positive role in children’s lives. Such intergenerational unease has not made children safer than in the past: if anything, it is creating the conditions for greater harm, as adults lose the nerve and will to look out for any child who is not their own. Perversely, it inadvertently encourages grown-ups to avoid their responsibility for assuring the well-being of children in their community. One of the principal consequences of the vetting of grown-ups is the legitimisation of the idea that it is not the responsibility of the older generation to take a direct interest in the lives of children
. "

Click here to read the AIRMIC Press Release from 17th June 2002...

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Floods, supply chains and cash flow

Floods are a particular problem for supply chain management. When all roads out are rendered impassable there is little comfort in having your factory on the top of a hill; staff can't make it to work, supplies can't be delivered or products shipped.

The impact is on the cash flow of the business. With no shipments there are no invoices and, if customers are also affected by floods then there may well be cancellations or contracts voided because of force majeure.

Bob O'Connor of A.M.Best spotlights the issue in his interview at the AIRMIC Conference with Dan Trueman of Kiln who are working to create insurance products to cover the revenue that the supply chain generates and respond to non-damage business interruptions. This is relevant to small companies as well as large, the sort our Business Continuity Management Online Course is designed to help. For more on that see

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Risk Management is like a sheep dip

Risk Management is like a sheep dip. In order for it to be really effective the whole flock needs to be periodically immersed in the process.