Safety and Risk Management

By Miller, John J. | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, August 2011 | Go to article overview

Safety and Risk Management


Miller, John J., JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


Throughout human history individuals and groups have had to contend with a variety of risks for survival and personal well-being. The origins of structured risk management have been traced to the Babylonians in 3200 B.C. (Covello & Mumpower, 1985). In fact, it could be contended that since human history is very much a story of assessing and adapting to risks, risk is inherent to the human condition. Defining risk is complicated, because it comprises two separate elements: likelihood and impact. For example, the likelihood that an athlete will die during a supervised practice or contest may be considered near zero. Yet, if such a tragedy were to occur, the impact would be significant. Recent examples include interscholastic football player Max Gilpin (Associated Press, 2009) and Olympic-caliber open-water swimmer Fran Crippen (Lord, 2011), who met their demise while participating in supervised competitions. The impact of the Gilpin incident was that a head high school football coach faced charges of reckless homicide and wanton endangerment, of which he was eventually acquitted (Associated Press).

While neither safety nor risk management are overly complicated, the specific understanding of safety principles and risk management decisions that are meant to help sport managers to provide athletes with a reasonably safe environment can be more problematic. Risk management assumes a burden, namely, to create a reasonably safe environment for the participants without interfering with the inherent risks of the sport or recreational activity. For example, one study found that a majority of organizations lacked safety protocols because they believed they would infringe on their patrons' enjoyment (Miller & Gillentine, 2006). To address this concern, an effective risk management plan should identify and assess the widest possible range of risks in organizational settings. In a sport setting, the goals of such a plan would be to resolve the levels of risk, address the safety controls that should be applied to reduce risk, and determine whether the risk is at an acceptable level without interfering with the enjoyment of the activity.

Maslow (1954) defined safety as "security, stability, dependency, protection, freedom from fear, ... need for structure, order" (p. 39). The need for safety at varying levels is still viewed as important in sports due to the growing concerns about the health and safety of athletes. A person only has to go online to read about significant injuries or deaths in interscholastic, intercollegiate, Olympic, and professional sports in which the development, implementation, and application of risk management procedures were called into question. If a dangerous situation was foreseeable and an individual was harmed, the lack of safety may be the reason or proximate cause of the damage rather than the particular mechanism of the injury (Turpin v. Granieri, 1999). The question is; why are risks that could result in significant injury not addressed more proactively? Perhaps the reason is the inability of sport managers to foresee areas of possible injury.

At the most operational level, effective risk management policies and procedures require a balance between the foreseeable risks to the organization and the costs to preserve or protect a particular asset, such as a participant. In describing a risk, it is important to make clear whether the primary concern is an unnecessary exposure to a foreseeable harm. However, because each risk is different, no sport manager can ever take a one-size-fits-all approach. Not only must the foreseeable factors be taken into account, but each factor must be weighed in light of past history. Regarding the forseeability of risks, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes (1881/2000) stated:

  If a consequence cannot be foreseen, it cannot be avoided.
  But there is this practical difference, that whereas, in most
  cases, the question of knowledge is a question of the actual
  condition of the defendant's consciousness, the question of
  what he might have foreseen is determined by the standard of
  the prudent man, that is, by general experience, (p. … 

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