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Risk? Just Google it!

Ian Kirke LLB (Hons), MSc.(Criminology and Criminal psychology), Cert Ed, PGDip Adv. Prof. Res., post-graduate researcher and MD of the training company TFS ponders the choices open to organisations when seeking to train personnel to competently handle high-risk public safety situations.

There has never been a better time to access professional knowledge at the click of a button. If in doubt Google it! Better still most of it is free! Yet such an approach can occasionally yield less then accurate or reliable advice. Within the field of risk this can have colossal consequences both in terms of public safety and reputational harm. Arguably the Googler will need some form of expertise to sort the dependable from the fanciful. For example, creating policy by interpreting statute and case law will necessitate the application of the literal rule. Or is the mischief rule more applicable? Or indeed the golden rule? Not forgetting the purposive approach. And is accompanying a shoplifter back to the manager’s office an arrest or not under Section 24A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984?

If all that Googling fails to help create a list of company do’s and don’ts there is online training. At a fraction of the cost of face to face classroom-based equivalents corporations can train everybody for the price of a consultant’s subsistence claim. Throw in some YouTube clips and job done. For low risk outcomes this may be all that is needed. Behavioural scripts that often lead to sensible outcomes such as “don’t challenge”, “do not escalate the situation”, “remain calm at all times” and “call the police” are wholly sound, aren’t they? Of course, they are. Yet in high-risk circumstances where threats are spontaneous and establish a clear and present danger the ability to process cognitive outcomes in a calm and rational manner evaporate in an instant. The associated adrenalin rush immediately scuppers the logical, sequential reasoning afforded by subordinate forms of risk and the human call to run away or fight takes full control. Consequently, the cognitive ideals mentioned a few sentences back are momentarily forgotten and not acted upon.

As a professional educationalist I am a total convert to the blended learning approach and fully grasp the RoI that such an approach can achieve. Online training is an integral part of this skills equation. Yet entire reliance on this form of training delivery in those instances where known high-risk events are extremely probable, conflicts with the law and the principles of adult learning. A tick in the box, written examination or other form of summative assessment can never accurately measure the effect of the situational stress response and anxiety experienced in a high-risk situation and provide suitable counter measures. Only simulations and properly facilitated role-plays can achieve this level of assessment and professional agility.

As a baseline assessment TFS high-risk public safety events commence with a listing of the desirable outcomes to ensure protection and legal certainty. Confident nods of approval breakout. Yet within a matter of minutes delegates are exposed to a simulated event that, nonetheless, activates the ‘fight or flight’ syndrome resulting in immediate capitulation of the previously learnt cognitive information. Only following reflection, via a professionally led de-brief, and the embedding of appropriate counter measures can the participants later demonstrate the correct and safe performance.

Josephine Mitchell & Others v United Co-operatives Limited [2012] EWCA Civ 348 engaged with the adequacy or otherwise of company risk assessments and counter measures, principally focusing upon the level of physical security. I would contend that this case will inevitably connect with future cases where inadequate behavioural training is provided in business locations that have a history of violence. Whatever internal mechanisms are used to identify risk (the unequivocal ‘RAG’ or as one client once remarked, “Bognor, Brighton or Beirut”) organisations who fail to acknowledge how the human brain works under extreme stress will be left vulnerable to prosecution under Health and Safety regulations or the more fateful Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. A rallying call of “but here is our written policy and everybody went through our online training programme!” is very likely to fall on deaf ears.

The cost of properly facilitated face to face training (that operates firmly within the affective domain) is often cited as being unreasonable. For the whole business estate, I would agree. Yet for the narrower band of high-risk roles undertaken by operational management teams successful emotional conditioning will save money. In research carried out by Chappell, D., and Martino, V. in 2006 (Violence at Work (Third edition). International Labour Office, Geneva, Switzerland) it was concluded that the typical cost to an organisation of an injured colleague, based on empirical research data gathered from the examination of the full range of aggressive work based violent acts including murder, assaults, sexual harassment, threats, bullying, and verbal abuse, was circa £28K.

Link the ‘Red’ areas of the business to the recent case of Everett & Anor v Comojo Ltd T/A The Metropolitan Club & Ors [2011] EWCA Civ 13 that explicitly examined the identifiable risk of physical harm often carried out by offenders who may resort to violence, and the question that may ultimately be asked is, “was the blanket online course designed by the in-house Learning & Development team really the only available option?” By which time it will be too late.

There is always the opt-out of outsourcing risk to the contracted-in guarding company but Hawley v Luminar Leisure Limited [2006] EWCA Civ 18 closed this loophole too.

Cutting corners is never the solution, but there again I have been addressing the converted, haven’t I?

About the author

Ian Kirke LLB (Hons), MSc.(Criminology & Criminal psychology), Cert Ed, PGDip Adv. Prof. Res., is Managing Director of Training For Success. Visit


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