How to risk assess life

risky decision


The Process

Our actions are often dictated by habit and an emotional response to decision making. This is often based on previous experience, “common wisdom” or culture.

Sometimes that status quo needs to be challenged. A risk assessment is an objective way to assess the best way to prepare and proceed.

There are hundreds of ways to risk assess an activity or task.

 Below is a simple process you can use for pretty much anything without getting bogged down by the ‘What If monster’

You won’t have to physically write this down but it does help to get used to the process.

We’ll use Swimming in open water as an example of what might be assessing risk for.

It’s something that some people have a fear about or avoid and that other people don’t respect to their peril.


Start with a Four columns marked Hazard, Risk, Consequence, Control Measure

Hazard Risk Consequence Control measure 


Everyone always gets these four elements mixed up to start with. 

Here’s a guide on identifying them correctly.



Hazard is the physical thing or phenomenon that may potentially cause harm.

Eg. Open water, bears, cold weather, fire, etc

Hazard Risk Consequence Control measure
Open water      





Risk is where the “What if” Monster like to play.

“What if a storm comes? What if I get swept out to sea? What if I freeze? What if a Shark eats me? What if someone else…

 To keep yourself sane; focus purely on what action YOU might take (or don’t take). that could cause the hazard to become dangerous. 

HazardRiskConsequenceControl measure
Open water1.Enter the water without appropriate clothing.
2.Enter the water without letting someone know/Lack of appropriate supervision.
3.Lack of appropriate skill 

If you’re responsible for people other than yourself, like children or a group. Still think in terms of your actions. I.e. Fail to set expectations, fail to explain boundaries. 


Consequence is simply what may happen if the risk played out. 

HazardRiskConsequenceControl measure
Open water1.Enter the water without appropriate clothing.
2.Enter the water without letting someone know/Lack of appropriate supervision.
3.Not knowing how to swim/appropriate water confidence.

1.Hypothermia, see through tighty whities.
2.No one to notice if the worst happens.3.Drowning

Consequences don’t just have to be injuries to ourselves or others. Financial or reputational loss. Environmental damage or anything you think is worth considering can and should be included.

Control measure

Control measure is what you can do to take away the danger. The simplest way is to work through the following:


  1. The Hazard be removed? 
  2. The Hazard be avoided? 
  3. You reduce the Risk by changing your actions?
  4. You reduce the Risk by gaining or sharing knowledge such as weather forecast or guidance?
  5. You reduce the Risk by using appropriate clothing or equipment?
  6. You prepare for the Consequence: First aid kit/training. Emergency shelter, escape plan. Mobile phone.

(It can be a good idea to work through these backwards, Why do you think that is?)


HazardRiskConsequenceControl measure
Open water1.Enter the water without appropriate clothing.
2.Enter the water without letting someone know/Lack of appropriate supervisio.
3.Not knowing how to swim/appropriate water confidence.

1.Hypothermia, see through tighty whities.2.No one to notice if the worst happens.
1.Wear a wetsuit.
2.Go to lifeguarded beach,
go with friend.
3.Assess swimming ability against conditions.


The reason you can’t simply copy and paste a risk assessment for an activity is because Hazards, Risks, Consequences and Control Measures, all shift depending on the following variables. 

  • Number of participants
  • Ability of participants
  • Behavior of participants
  • Familiarity of participants
  • Weather.
  • Other people

What other variables can you think of?




  1. Look around your current environment. What do you see?
  2. Look at every object and think of it as a Hazard.
  3. Choose one Hazard.
  4. Think about what action you might take (or not take) to make it a Risk.
  5. What would be the Consequence?
  6. What can you do about it? (Control measure) 
  7. Warning: you will now see the whole world like this forever, Sorry.


Now imagine that your current environment has a group of, let’s say 6, toddlers that are your responsibility. Go through the process again. If your not familiar with toddlers, think of them like Jason Bourne; anything can become a lethal weapon in their hands.

Risk Assessment IRL

There will always be an element of risk to life. You can’t always remove or avoid hazards.

In our example the open water Hazard can be removed by simply not going near it, let alone in it. 

However if your aim is to go swimming in the open water removing the Hazard (and therefore all the potential Risks and Consequences) defies the point. 

Sometimes hazards have a way of finding their way into your life.

Benefits; the fifth element/column 

Think of a risk that you take most days.

Getting into a car is statistically one of the most dangerous things you can do, however but most of us do that everyday.


Something that is becoming more and more prevalent in the outdoor industry is to think about the potential benefit of an activity or action. 

Think of the following:

  • hold a spider
  • stand on top of a building
  • speak in public
  • swim in the sea
  • change jobs
  • start a business
  • climb a mountain.

Undoubtedly you had an emotional reaction to each of those things. Go back through and be honest; Would you do that activity tomorrow?

Can you answer with a simple YES or NO?

Can you break down the reasons that you feel make that activity safe or unsafe, appropriate or inappropriate.

Are they Hazards, Risks or Consequences?

Can you find a Control measure?

Now go back through the list and think of all the potential benefits of each activity.

What can really shift your perspective is when you start thinking about the risks of not doing those activities. 

Think about all the people who suffer from disease and poor health because they perceive the risks and consequences outweigh the benefits of going for a walk or a run.

Think of how many people get deeper and deeper into debt because they don’t change jobs or start a business. 

Worse than that get to the end of their life feeling unfulfilled because fear kept them from trying the activities that would make life great.

What are the Risks and consequences of doing a job you don’t love for the rest of your life?

What are the risks and consequences of never starting that habit of making time to exercise in a way that excites you?

“A risk assessment is a way to be objective about life decisions, Rather than be dictated by habit or fear”

A Little More Outdoor

So what can be done?

You can take responsibility.  

9 times out of 10 by simply having the right equipment or knowledge anything can be made safe enough to try.

Think of something that would have a significant benefit to your life.

Risk assess it.

Do it.

There is always a way to make something possible.

If you really want to blow your mind risk assess staying in your current life.

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