"Nothing ventured: balancing risks and benefits in the outdoors"

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was produced by the Winton programme for the public understanding of risk based in the Statistical Laboratory in the University of Cambridge. The aim was to help improve the way that uncertainty and risk are discussed in society, and show how probability and statistics can be both useful and entertaining.

Many of the animations were produced using Flash and will no longer work.

Do you think that kids are being over-protected and need more risk in their lives? If so, you may be surprised to find that the Chair of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Chief Executive of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) agree with you.

The English Outdoor Council has just released a fine report by Tim Gill,
"Nothing ventured: balancing risks and benefits in the outdoors" which "explodes the myths about safety on school visits and gives real reassurance to teachers"

Apart from some wonderful pictures of kids hurling themselves off waterfalls, there are some excellent quotes, such as

We need to accept that uncertainty is inherent in adventure, and this contains the possibility of adverse outcomes. A young person’s development should not be unduly stifled by the proper need to consider the worst consequence of risk but must be balanced by its likelihood and indeed its benefits. Tom Mullarkey OBE, Chief Executive, Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents

The report, supported by Judith Hackett, Chair of the HSE, says that

an approach that accepts that a degree of risk - properly managed - is not just inevitable but positively desirable,

and a series of myths are taken apart to show that the law is taking a sensible approach to school outings and the risks of litigation are exaggerated.

In a bold statement, Tim Gill says that

we need to recognise that there is such a thing as a genuine accident: from time to time, terrible things happen and noone is to blame.

There are even some statistics showing that on average 1 child a year is killed when taking part in outdoor activities, which they say is about equivalent to the risk faced by children left back in school.

For me, the most interesting recommendation is that the concept of 'risk-assessment' should be replaced by risk-benefit assessment, that explicitly takes into account what may be lost if too much caution is exercised. This mirrors the move towards uniform reporting of benefits and harms of medical treatments.

The author concludes that

All of these goals depend upon creating space and time for children to take a degree of control for their actions: giving them meaningful challenges that inevitably give rise to real risks. This means that the outcomes will never be entirely certain. While the risks can be managed, they cannot and should not be eliminated, and absolute safety cannot and should not be guaranteed.

Can we have that engraved on every school gate?



Dear Professor Spiegelhalter Thanks very much for your positive comments on 'risk-benefit assessment' I heard your question on the Reith Lecture to Lord Rees - beautifully put. We must be very careful to keep all the good things about health and safety, while getting rid of those tireseome and restrictive mores which have infected the public view of the subject - small-minded bureaucracy and insurance driven aversion to name the two main ones. People are making billions of good safety decisions every day and the few poor judgements which gain all the publicity must be put in context. We need 'risk literacy' at a basic academic level (primary school) so that everyone can understand probability and make their own judgements, when armed with a basic understanding of likliehood and consequence. This has to start early or inevitably, the fear of consequence will take over. Tom Mullarkey CEO RoSPA

At their proper age, they will be able to learn their responsibility and even capable of bringing those determination into something unique. Regards, Erin