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Top Tips for a Risk-Based Thinking Approach

risk-based thinking approach

Top Tips for a Risk-Based Thinking Approach

The concept of risk-based thinking is attracting attention from a variety of stakeholders including retailers, certification standards and the supply base, but what does risk-based thinking mean and how do we achieve it?

In my opinion, we have become so used to being told what to do in prescriptive standards and codes or practice that we have forgotten how to think from first principles and how to use risk to drive the decisions we make.

Typically, when considering risk, we often think of it in a negative context i.e. to reduce the risk of things going wrong, however we can also use it positively in helping us exploit opportunities. There are multiple benefits to be gained from a risk-based mindset.

What is risk-based thinking?

I think this is the hard bit! I’ve read quite a bit about this and I’m yet to find a concise and meaningful definition (please feel free to pitch in here if you have one!) It’s about using risk-based thinking to drive the way we operate day to day.  We are all constantly making risk based decisions. For example, when we cross the road, drive a car or make choices about the food we eat. Risk is all around us, we can’t escape it, but we can manage it.

Back in our world of work, risk-based thinking uses data as a starting point. What do we know as fact around the potential severity or likelihood of the issue in question?  It uses learnings from past experiences and involves a site wide team.  It’s not just about putting scores in boxes and making a spreadsheet look nice with some colour coding.  Risk-based thinking and risk management is much broader in scope than just the assessment of risk, it requires the assessment to have a direct link to how we operate and drives behaviours.

How do we achieve risk-based thinking?

1. Risk needs to be at the core of all decisions

As an industry, we need risk to be at the core of all the decisions we make and a part of how we do business.  However, the reality can be far from this with some Senior Leadership Teams still failing to see food safety as a palpable business risk. Even so, risk-based thinking is a lot more than just HACCP.  It needs to be the driver behind decisions and relationships, for example, supplier management.

2. Decide on your methodology, document it and use it consistently

Where appropriate, to encourage clarity and harmonisation, we should utilise the internationally agreed terminology from Codex which relates to food safety risk analysis. However, it is easy to get tied up with terminology here. So, decide on a method that suits your ways of working, develop your framework, document it and apply it consistently. This is a critical step in helping to ensure risk-based thinking becomes commonly used across the business. Teams need to feel confident in how to analyse risk, it’s not something to be scared of or avoided because it appears too difficult.

3. There is no such thing as ‘zero risk’

Unfortunately life just isn’t like that! As a business you need to have some open and honest conversations around just exactly what level of risk you are willing to accept.  We can outsource many activities, but we cannot outsource risk management.  Businesses must do the thinking for themselves.  If you have to make ‘assumptions’ due to a lack of science or data, then be open and honest about these, record them and revisit them when more data is available.

4. Not all risk assessments are the same

The level of complexity and sophistication can, and should, differ according to the need. A ‘quick and dirty’ risk assessment can be done in hours and, if based on valid data and a robust benchmark, can give an immediate initial idea of the level of risk involved. If not all the questions raised can be answered then more detail will need to be added. Whereas, for other topics, such as a more detailed microbiological risk assessment, you will need to further refine the data and may utilise sophisticated models to predict the potential risk.

Here are Adele’s top tips for risk-based thinking:

  1. Ensure your thinking is science based and data driven
  2. Do challenge the robustness of the data you are using to base your decisions on
  3. Get into the detail when identifying hazards, threats or issues. Generic hazards will lead to controls which are too vague to be meaningful, so be specific
  4. Decide on your methodology, document it and use it consistently
  5. Ensure your risk assessment has an output. How will the necessary controls be implemented, monitored and verified? How will your risk assessment drive or change behaviours?
  6. Ensure it is living and breathing – keep it dynamic, respond to data as and when you receive it
  7. Talk about risk – share your thinking, encourage a risk-based mindset throughout your business

To summarise:

In my opinion, this current focus on a risk-based approach is very positive. As many retailers reduce their level of prescription, it will become a vital tool in helping the supply base illustrate that they have done the thinking and are in control of the risks within their business.

How can we help?

We’re currently writing courses to help with the proactive approach for risk based thinking.  However, risk-based thinking is applicable to lots of topics and many of our existing courses such as Root Cause Analysis, Auditing and also HACCP.

As always, we offer bespoke solutions, so if you’re looking for better compliance, or help with your risk assessments, please get in touch.

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