Column: Risk Management

Killing With Kindness

By: | May 1, 2014 • 2 min read

Joanna Makomaski is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques. She can be reached at [email protected]

Topics: May 2014 Issue

I recently attended a baby shower. As per tradition, the room was filled with moms, kids, pink frilly things and plenty of unsolicited advice on child care.

One toddler caught my risk management eye. She happily zoomed around the room on her new wobbly legs as she sucked on her bottle of milk.

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Almost as though on cue, we heard a loud crash. She dropped her glass baby bottle. The bottle broke into a million pieces. Rattled, the baby started to cry, ran through the shards of wet glass to seek out mom. Mom pulled out another bottle for her. Moments later, she calmed. All was quiet again.

Only a few minutes later, we hear yet another crash. Mom pulled out another bottle. And no lie, it happened again. But this time mom ran out of glass bottles.

Finally, a grandmother dared to suggest to mom, “Maybe it would be better to use a plastic baby bottle in the future?”

Uh-oh. We all went silent and waited for the inevitable. We woke Mom-zilla. Mom gave granny an earful with a lecture on the clear and present dangers of the common plastic ingredient bisphenol-A (BPA) used to make the polycarbonate and epoxy resins in everything from DVDs to baby bottles. How dare this ancient grandma suggest such a dangerous thing for her daughter?http://wp.me/p4sYQ1-1Pt

Poor grandma forgot the first law of risk management: Never take on a first-time mother drunk on hormones and crazed by exhaustion.

But clearly grandma knew the second law: A well intentioned risk mitigation plan can sometimes create an equal or more threatening risk.  I call this law: killing through good intentions.

We see this often in the risk management world. We come up with a risk solution to a real or perceived risk. By implementing the risk mitigation, we create an equal or even bigger problem. Consider the early generation of vehicle air bags. Their intent was to cushion the blow of vehicle impacts, not to smother children to death when deployed. But that is indeed what they did.

I truly believe that good risk management planning involves a balance of ingenuity with critical thinking, healthy perspective and common sense. We should try to analyze solutions from cradle to grave. Try to consider the interdependencies or cascading effects of our plans. In essence, we should really try to think things through.

I have no doubt that the toddler’s mom had only good intentions: to thwart the evil threat of her child ingesting BPA. But what I found more concerning is that for some reason, she could not see the more imminent and real-time danger posed by the sharp wet shards of glass all around her child on multiple occasions.

Our risk analyses need to compare threat to threat as environments and conditions change. For instance, use plastic bottles when we are likely to experience dangerous chips, cracks and breakages of glass bottles. If leaching BPA worries us, heat milk in a glass vessel and then transfer to the plastic bottles. (But for what it’s worth, BPA-free plastic items are clearly labelled and easy to find.)

If your home is wall-to-wall with thick carpeting, it may be safe to let your child run wild with the glass bottle. If she develops a fascination for the sound it makes when it thwacks against the wood or metal furniture, switch to a plastic bottle instead.

Most importantly, if you plan to go to a baby shower in a room with porcelain floors and self-righteous moms, best to consider using plastic bottles. Not worth risking both baby and mom getting cut up.

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]