Engineering activities inherently involve risk and can have a critical impact on the health and safety of the public, and the environment. As such, effective risk management is imperative for limiting and eliminating risks.

In December 2020, the Canadian Engineering Qualifications Board (CEQB) published a Risk Management Guideline that outlines principles and processes that allow engineers to identify and analyze risk, and support decision making. It also provides information to engineers on how to adhere to best practices and meet their ethical obligations to uphold the safety, health, and welfare of the public.

“Risk management is a complex subject and we have tried to provide clarity on how to do this in as simple a fashion as possible, without losing the attendant complexities,” says Frank George, Vice Chair of the CEQB, who worked on the committee that developed the guideline.

The eight-step framework provided in the guideline illustrates key strategies for preventing and mitigating risk. The framework describes a process of essential activities, such as hazard identification, and the analysis, assessment, and management of risk. Furthermore, it explains appropriate methods for responding to risk in relation to its severity and likelihood—whether to, for example, proceed with an action or monitor the risk, implement risk mitigation measures and then periodically revaluate, or suspend the activity because the risk is deemed unacceptable.

Risk management is essential for all facets of engineering. George says, “in my management roles during my career in oil and gas, risk management was a key area of focus. This included technical, safety, and financial risks, and the development and use of risk registers to drive fulsome reviews of the hazards and risks were critical to successfully managing the business.”

“So, this is a key component of the role that engineers play,” George says, “and I was pleased to help with the development of this guideline.”

The guideline makes clear that all engineers should be familiar with risk management as the likelihood of risks occurring is not limited to “high-risk” industries. Examples provided in the appendices demonstrate the wide range of scenarios in which principles of risk apply, along with key lessons that engineers can apply in other contexts.

Pal Mann, CEO and Registrar of Engineers Nova Scotia, who also worked on the guideline says, “The practice of engineering carries with it an inherent level of risk that engineers must seek to understand and manage. While we can never predict the future, applying a risk management process to predict uncertainties in activities can minimize the occurrence or impact of these uncertainties. Regarding the impacts on environment and people, by recognizing risks and the probability of them occurring, engineers can better anticipate the potential impacts of risks and how best to address them.

“Coming from a military background where poor risk management meant those under my command could suffer serious injury or death, understanding, assessing, and mitigating risk has been one of my cornerstones for effective decision making.”

Mann also highlights that “Risk is inevitable…therefore brainstorming actual and potential risks, conceptualizing possible outcomes, and developing options to deal with occurrence of identified risk scenarios—quickly, effectively and efficiently—is critical in engineering where we need to safeguard the public, and our clients. At best, a poor risk management posture will result in economic loss or delivery delay; at worst it can cost lives.”

Mann adds that “Engineers Canada’s Public Guideline on Risk Management is a good primer for new engineers, and a valuable refresher for seasoned engineers on risk analysis methods fostering healthy risk management drills and mindset. It is a valuable tool to help us meet our ethical obligations and fulfil our part of the social contract.”

Find the full guideline here.

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