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Cedric Stephens | Risk management important for our schools

Published:Sunday | December 15, 2019 | 12:00 AM
A young student holds a poster which reads ‘Children are our future’ alongside other students from Constant Spring Primary and Junior High, Shortwood Primary, Carberry Court High and Lalyce Grey Basic School, during a nationwide Hear the Children Cry mobilisation drive in March 2006. The Shortwood school and complex features a perimeter fence, indicating that the school’s administration takes student safety into consideration.

Physical exercise plays an important part in helping me to manage the many risks that are linked directly to type II diabetes.

My workouts take place four to five days per week, rain or shine, on a playing field located in a complex comprising Shortwood Teachers College and a school nearby for children. The field is surrounded by a high perimeter fence on three sides and a concrete wall on one. It is managed by the college administration.

Children from the school and other persons from nearby communities are regular visitors. The facilities – for which a user fee is charged – are rudimentary. If Emancipation Park in New Kingston is like Stilton Cheese, then Shortwood is like chalk.

Phase I of the upgrading of the Shortwood facilities began last week. It involves the construction of toilets and changing rooms. The first task of the contractor was to secure the building site. A 10-foot zinc fence was erected. This was done to prevent injuries to walkers, joggers, and children during construction.

The area protected by the zinc fence border is big enough to allow construction equipment to operate without creating hazards for the users of the facility, especially children.

The small Shortwood playing field upgrading project offers an example of risk management in action. My July 24, 2017 article, ‘Inadequate risk management has costly outcomes’, though written in the context of major disasters like hurricanes and their impact on national development, can also be applied to businesses and institutions, such as schools.

The Shortwood Teachers’ College administration clearly recognises this.

Untimely death

It is very sad that it has taken the untimely death two months ago of Benjamin Bair, a seven-year-old student at Clan Carthy Primary School, to spur a “comprehensive review of safety and security regulations in public schools”.

Benjamin was the second primary school student to be killed on-premises in a vehicular accident in two years. This newspaper reported on April 25 this year that a St James teacher was charged in connection with the death of Anchovy Primary School student Easton Stapleton. He was killed at the school last June by a vehicle driven by the teacher, who is charged with common-law manslaughter.

Anthony Krone is the risk manager at the Shelby County School District in Tennessee. In an article in Risk Management Monitor in July 2016, he writes: “No matter what precautionary measures schools take, there are many risks and ‘fires’ that need to be put out on a daily basis. To keep staff and students safe and to protect school assets, a proactive approach to mitigating risk in schools is a necessity. The keys to a successful risk management programme include careful, strategic planning while taking all relevant and potential factors into consideration, but how can administrators get started?

“By identifying potential risks and applying a process to assess them, schools can focus on their objectives more clearly, including top priorities like student and employee well-being. Effective risk management reduces the disruption of a student’s education, damage to a school’s reputation, lost time, stress from managing incidents, and the potential risk of legal intervention in an increasingly litigious world. School administrators can explore these strategies as they strive to enhance their risk-management initiatives.”

Even though Mr Krone’s article was written in the context of the American school and legal systems, in my opinion, his comments are relevant to school administrators and the education ministry. Also, the threat of lawsuits in Jamaica for wrongdoing, especially when children are injured, is not remote. Benjamin’s parents have retained the services of an attorney.

Insurance and risk-management consultant, Lydia-Sherry Obinim of the St Elizabeth-based Obinim Insurance Consultancy, uses 141 fewer words than her Tennessee counterpart to express the same idea: “What keeps you up at nights?”

The Department of Mines and Petroleum in The Government of Western Australia provides a framework for understanding the risk management process. It says: “Risk management is recognised as an integral component of good management and governance. It is an iterative process consisting of steps, which, when undertaken in sequence, enable continual improvement in decision-making. Risk management is the term applied to a logical and systematic method of establishing the context, identifying, analysing, evaluating, treating, monitoring, and communicating risks associated with any activity, function, or process in a way that will enable organisations to minimise losses and maximise opportunities. It is as much about identifying opportunities as avoiding or mitigating losses.”

It is about more than safety and security and requires a holistic approach that addresses an entity’s entire risk exposures and needs. It is about risk and reward for the long term.

n Cedric E. Stephens provides independent information and advice about the management of risks and insurance. For free information or counsel, write to: