I first encountered the term risk tolerance as it applied to questions our financial advisor asked my husband Alan and me. Our advisor wanted to know how safe we wanted to be when it came to deciding how to invest our funds. If we risked more, we could potentially make more, but we could also lose more.
Risk tolerance in the workplace is defined as the willingness of a worker or a group to take safety risks.
I am an equestrienne. Every time I climb aboard my awesome grey gelding, I take a safety risk. Frankly, every time I climb into my car I take a safety risk. Every time I walk down my front steps, I am potentially taking a safety risk.
The information I will discuss comes from this article from Western Energy Institute, Personal Risk and What Influences Our Safety Decisions, written by Dave Fennell. I found it very interesting, and I appreciate his wisdom!
Hazard Recognition and Risk Tolerance
The article referenced above identifies three components involved in a person’s willingness and ability to assess a potential risk and make a decision about how to respond to that risk.
- Hazard identification – do I recognize that I am engaging in something risky? Am I in a situation where risks are present? Do I see it?
- Risk perception – am I processing how the potential risk could impact my well-being? Do I understand it?
- Risk tolerance – what cognitive decision(s) will I make about whether to accept the risk, change something about how I do it, or choose not to do it at all? Do I accept or reject the risk?
So what am I getting at here?
Sadly, many of us watched the news coverage of the horrible fires last week in Colorado. These fires apparently started because excessively high winds knocked over power lines and transformers. The terrible drought in Colorado only added to the rapid and uncontrollable spread of these fires.
My Facebook feed was inundated with reports of lost horses that were turned loose with literally no time to spare as the fires destroyed everything in their path. Many folks barely escaped themselves, much less be able to trailer horses off of their property. Many small animal pets were unable to be rescued and were left to fend for themselves.
My personal risk tolerance
A few days before catastrophe struck in communities close to our home in Colorado, I looked out my Arizona kitchen window at Sadie, our bay mare. She was happily hanging out in the pasture, sporting her ID MyHorse Emergency Tag woven into her mane. I remember reflecting on the peace of mind I had knowing that if somehow she escaped the pasture, it would be so easy to figure out where she belonged.
I don’t plan on having high winds knock down transformers in my neighborhood and start massive fires. I don’t plan on being separated from my awesome gelding, or injured in a wreck, when we are on a trail ride. If we are horse camping and decide to go into town for dinner, I don’t plan on having either of our horses colic or get cast in their stall while we are gone. But can I count on none of the above ever happening to us?
I can’t. My risk might be low, but my tolerance for anything that might negatively impact my health and safety or my horses’ health and safety is equally low. Alan and I are leading an amazing life. We do absolutely everything we can to keep it that way. The less stress and drama, the better. So… if I had to turn my horses loose on a moment’s notice, my stress would be related to if they get hurt running around unattended… not if someone can figure out where they belong. Wounds can be treated, but only if you get the horse back!
What decides YOUR risk tolerance?
The article mentioned above was written more from a job/worker’s perspective. However, it offers several concepts that describe factors that influence how an individual weighs any given risk. Let’s examine how they relate to our equestrian lifestyle…
Overestimating capability or experience–The article states, “Greater risks are tolerated when there is a belief in one’s physical ability, strength, agility, reaction time and reflexes in preventing an incident.” This is SO TRUE of the responses I hear when I discuss the fact that Alan and I wear helmets and Hit-Air vests. Alan is a less experienced rider than I am, but I don’t kid myself about my abilities to never get hurt on my horse! We are not willing to risk a serious head injury, broken ribs, or spinal damage if there is something we can do to mitigate that risk!
Familiarity with the task (or complacency)—“This occurs when a worker has completed a task successfully multiple times and has the skill to complete it successfully without thinking — a state referred to as “unconsciously competent.” Research shows that workers in this state can become unaware of the potential hazards. This kind of autopilot complacency occurs without the worker having to refocus or refresh, thus creating a blind spot to potential hazards.” Again, this is the majority of horseback riders! MOST of the time we get away with complacency!
Seriousness of the outcome—“Here, the increased risk is based on the premise that something could go wrong. However, the worker underestimates how serious the consequences might be.” We might have a horse wreck that is relatively minor. We get back up and go on. We might live in an area where floods or wildfires are prevalent, but we’ll get enough notice to evacuate, right? We are acknowledging that there is risk, but we don’t think the consequences would be too bad…
Voluntary actions and being in control—“There is an increased acceptance of risk in performing voluntary activities. Once we have made a decision to participate in an activity, either work-based or off the job, a process called “confirmation bias” occurs, and we convince ourselves that it is safe, despite the actual risks. This confirmation bias is exemplified when we have control, or perceive that we have control, over the task. Control gives us the feeling of confidence in our ability and an underestimation of the risk occurs.” This is pretty self-explanatory, don’t you think?
Personal experience with a serious outcome—“Personal reality events can stick with an individual for a long time — sometimes a lifetime. They can impact a person’s decisions on performing tasks they associate with an event, and it can result in being intolerant of any risk associated with a similar task. However, a worker who has never had a firsthand experience with a serious consequence will be prepared to accept more risk because they may be skeptical that something serious could actually happen. Newer workers need to hear firsthand accounts of past serious incidents to reduce their unconscious risk acceptance.” I have seen this dynamic at play in the horse world. Having a close friend or family member experience a serious horse wreck is often enough to motivate others to take more precautions. And there is no question that someone who once lost a horse or once had a serious wreck is much more likely to do whatever it takes to avoid that consequence in the future!
The above concepts are about half of the list given in the quoted article. But they are the ones that are most consistent with the feedback I get from horse people about why they make the decisions that they do.
- I haven’t had a serious wreck… so I likely won’t in the future.
- My riding skills are so good I can always control the outcome. I have been riding my entire life.
- I ride great horses… they would never cause me problems.
- If I have a wreck, I’ll be fine. I’m strong and healthy!
- I have never lost my horse before, so I probably won’t in the future. Besides… my fences are good and I don’t live in a disaster-prone area.
- If disaster strikes, I’ll have plenty of time to get my animals to safety.
This blog post is in no way an indictment of unidentified horses being turned loose in the face of a raging fire in Colorado. It is in no way meant to capitalize on anyone’s misfortune or tragedy. It is written because it is so frustrating for me to see post after post after post searching for a missing horse (some with metabolic issues like Cushings!) using Facebook as the medium! If that horse with Cushings is lucky enough to be rescued and land at someone’s home or the local fairgrounds, will he get the treatment he needs? The stress of his experience will exacerbate his condition.
The concept of ID tags on a horse is a relatively new one. Seat belts were once a new concept. So was the reality that smoking is dangerous. GPS technology has come a long way but still has limitations for lost equines. Microchips are great for some situations requiring reunification, but most professionals and folks that deal with lost animals recommend multiple types of identification. (See Are Microchips the Answer?) Fetlock bands scare me… the information about nylon fetlock bands says they break with 30 pounds of pressure. Which will break first, the band or the bone?
ID MyHorse Emergency Identification Tags won’t burn in a fire. They won’t cause injury to a horse if a piece of braided mane gets caught on something. The worst case scenario is that the hair is pulled out. And yet, they will stay in place for weeks or months. The visible Red Cross logo alerts all First Responders that emergency information is contained within. There is a wealth of information contained within the tag.
So what is YOUR risk tolerance?