What can we learn about risks from pro cyclist Danny MacAskill?

It’s mesmerizing to watch Danny MacAskill defy gravity on his bike. Danny, for those who don’t already know, is a fellow Scot who is a professional trials cyclist – he completes extremely high-risk obstacle courses on his bike. And what obstacles he overcomes: On videos that have attracted tens of millions of views on YouTube, you can watch Danny jump boulders on his way down a rocky mountain side; hop his bike from one abandoned railroad track to another, spinning to change direction in mid-air; and do a front flip on his bike over a barbed-wire fence.

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Danny MacAskill thoroughly prepares for the high-risk obstacle courses he undertakes. Similarly, in construction we must relentlessly identify and mitigate the risks faced by project teams.

Photo Credit: DannyMacAskill.co.uk

There’s a great deal of risk in what Danny does – that’s why so many people watch him ride. It’s worth understanding how he recognizes and prepares for those risks, as there are key parallels in risk identification and mitigation between Danny’s riding and what we do every day in construction – and in everyday life. In all cases, not being vigilant to the risks that surround us all too often lead to serious consequences.

Seeing risks

Here’s what Danny has to say about planning for his tricks: “When I’m first thinking about doing a line, you’re actually thinking about the worst-case scenario that’s going to happen. You think about the different crashes and possibilities. You’re constantly assessing what you’re doing – your mind can definitely play games with you.”

Construction should be approached in the same way. Every possible risk needs to be identified, analyzed and with detailed plans put in place and responsibilities assigned to mitigate the risk. Look-ahead meetings, daily briefings and construction work plans are key parts of this on our job sites. Tasks at home must be given the same consideration.

Sometimes, confidence can blind people to risks. Each day’s activities must be approached as distinct undertakings requiring comprehensive risk evaluations.

Managing risk

Danny only moves ahead with a trick when he’s fully ready. Here’s what he had to say about that in another interview: “I tend not to do things that I’m scared of. I try to have things completely sorted in my head beforehand. I have to be 100 percent clear that I’m going to do the trick I’m going to do.”

Beyond mental awareness, Danny prepares in other ways. He lays out the stunts he wants to do sometimes months ahead of time. Then he practices his moves, sometimes using practice ramps and setting up mats to cushion his falls. He always has the proper equipment, including a helmet and gloves.

To mitigate jobsite risks on a daily basis, Skanska uses the construction work plans that we – in partnership with crew leaders – develop for each activity and review every day. We manage the risks identified in these plans through any of the large collection of tried and tested controls we’ve developed over many years for jobsite- and activity-specific hazards: everything from critical crane lifts to working at extreme heights to simply wearing the right personal protective equipment (PPE) for the task at hand. If we disrespect these risk mitigation tools, then we’re disrespecting the risk they’re designed to control. That risk doesn’t go away, and when not controlled it comes back with consequence.

I’ve seen high-risk projects achieve superior safety performance because the project team is constantly aware of and fully respects the inherent risk at all times. When the right level of respect is given, the team watches out for the risk every waking minute.

Genuine care

While processes and strategies are essential for dealing with risks and hazards, what’s also key is genuine care: When the construction industry reaches the point at which each person on a jobsite genuinely cares for their own well-being and that of the people around them, then it will be possible to eliminate worker injury. We’re getting closer to that point, as demonstrated by the more than 40 companies sponsoring this year’s industry Safety Week. These firms – including Skanska – are putting competition aside to work together to improve safety, demonstrating the type of big-hearted approach we all need as individuals.

Paul Haining

Paul Haining

Chief environment, health and safety officer

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