What’s the difference between risk and hazard? What do we mean by a risk culture? How can businesses build an understanding of risks, and the potential cost consequences, into their planning at all levels of operations?
These were some of the issues discussed at a recent Risk Management Forum aimed at representatives from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s (NDA) estate of 19 historic sites, many dating from the immediate post-war period and presenting complex, hazardous challenges as they are decommissioned.
Good practice in Risk Management is critical, ensuring risks are identified, analysed and addressed, while generating information for decision-making.
As the UK’s strategic nuclear decommissioning body, the NDA plays a leading role in developing and sharing good practice across the estate. There is a drive to continuously improve practice, with all of the companies that operate the sites, the Site Licence Companies (SLCs) enacting improvement plans and achieving measurable progress.
The forum, held in Cumbria, provided opportunities for more than 50 specialists from the SLCs and other organisations to share learning on topical challenges, such as further developing and embedding positive risk culture, management of contingency and putting risk information at the heart of decision-making.
The 2014 event was the largest organised so far and brought together, for the first time, representatives from the NDA, its subsidiaries International Nuclear Services and Direct Rail Services, the Site Licence Companies, nuclear regulators, the wider nuclear industry, the Institute of Risk Management and the national Infrastructure Risk Group.
A tour of Sellafield site in west Cumbria, the UK’s most challenging nuclear complex, preceded the event. Risk Managers were able to view a number of high-hazard decommissioning projects and visited the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP) which receives spent fuel from the UK’s modern AGR reactors. The tour gave an understanding of Sellafield Ltd’s role in supporting activities at other nuclear sites, and how associated risks are being managed.
The main forum, at Whitehaven Golf Club, was organised jointly by the NDA and Sellafield Ltd. LSC Group, a specialist provider of risk management services, sponsored the event and facilitated a series of workshops. The day included a range of presentations discussions and topical workshops covering Asset Management, Supply Chain, Security, Professionalism, Contingency, and Risk Culture.
Guest speakers included NDA Assurance Director Kenna Kintrea, NDA Head of Risk Mark Armitage, Paul Robson Head of Risk Management at Sellafield Ltd, the Office for Nuclear Regulation’s Risk Co-ordinator Helen Taylor, EDF’s Paul Skirrow, Network Rail’s Matthew Hannaway, as well as Phil Allen and Steven Shackleford from the Institute of Risk Management (IRM). The forum also heard from the IRM about a range of internationally recognised professional courses and certification.
The day was opened by Kenna Kintrea who pointed out that Sellafield contained some of the UK’s major hazards and emphasised the importance of communicating risk, as well as ensuring understanding, at every level of an organisation. It was also critical, she added, that a positive risk culture was supported and promoted by senior management.
Paul Robson described how the site had made significant progress in developing greater levels of risk awareness over recent years, encompassing senior management and the on-the-ground workforce. The result was a consistent approach to risk management, with standard toolkits, increased collaboration, new escalation processes, revised reporting procedures and improved project cost estimating.
Matthew Hannaway, Head of Project Risk and Value Management at Network Rail, outlined recent work by the Infrastructure Risk Group on: Cost and Risk Estimation, Active Risk Mitigation and Management and Enabling and Support Activity. The group’s full 2013 report Managing Cost Risk and Uncertainty in Infrastructure Projects can be found at the website of the Institute of Risk Management.
Matthew added: “Accurate estimation of project costs is difficult, especially when uncertainties are involved, as inherently they always are. The drive to produce a single figure, and then to have absolute confidence in that single figure, only adds to the difficulty and creates a false sense of certainty. A more pragmatic approach is to talk about project costs in ranges, especially in the early development stages of a project, when uncertainty is greatest. The more effectively estimating and risk professionals and work together, the more effective and efficient the processes will be.
“A proactive risk management culture, focused on putting risk management at the heart of decision-making, is crucial. Simple yet fundamental steps like having a common vocabulary are critical enablers to creating this culture – for example, understanding precisely what is meant by high risk, medium risk or low risk.”
Richard James, NDA Risk Manager, said: “Both the visit to Sellafield and the discussions on the following day were extremely well received. This was the largest of the events we have organised so far, with excellent, practical discussions on a variety of risk-related themes. It is clear that there is a real appetite to continue improving our risk management processes across the whole estate.”