Focus on the risks and own them.

A little while ago I had the opportunity to go back to  University and study something close to my heart. Countryside Management. I’m a country boy deep down. I volunteer with a local wildlife organisation.

My studies and my volunteer work led me to undertake something that I never ever thought I would do. I became a Forester. A lumberjack. I can chop down trees with a chainsaw. This is without a doubt one of the most demanding, dangerous and exciting things I have ever done! Forestry is one of the most dangerous of occupations.

Being in a situation where lives and property are at risk tends to focus ones mind. Falling trees kill people. You don’t take anything for granted. Start with preparation. Is my chainsaw sharp? Is it in good condition? Are all the safety features present and working? Do I have enough fuel and oil? Do people know where I am? If an accident happens can an ambulance or helicopter get to me? How do I communicate to get help? Then the job itself. What sort of tree is it? Is it leaning? Where will it naturally fall? How can I change the direction of fall? If it gets stuck what will I do? Where are my escape routes? What other hazards are present? Is the area free from other people? Have I erected my warning signs? Then it’s time to make the cuts. Is my personal protection (helmet, visor, ear-defenders, boots, gloves, trousers) OK? Which way is the wind blowing? What type of cut do I need to make? Make the wedge cut. Is it OK? Make the back cut. Timber! What a rush!!

All of these checks are done without hardly thinking about them. Because if I get something wrong I could die. So I have a lot to lose.

Most of us in our day to day lives do not face such dangerous situations. But we do face risk and uncertainty. We read so often about projects failing due to the non-identification of and failure to manage risk (G4S!). And yet we all know about risks. We’ve been on the courses. Read the books. What is the problem!?

When I sat my chainsaw assessment (a day of being closely observed in everything you do) I passed with flying colours. Others failed because they were judged to be dangerous. They simply did not see the dangers. It was painful to watch. It made me wonder why some people (even when their lives are at risk) cannot see the risks around them. At that point I had no more experience than they had but to me the dangers were clear.

So why can some people see risks and others can’t? Is it experience? Imagination? Fear? Responsibility? Ownership? Common sense? Or all of the above….?

I’m a lumberjack and I’m OK. I have my risk log (ha ha).


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