Business continuity: Why getting hit by a bus is better than winning the lottery

At my work, like in every good business, we develop plans to deal with various risks. One of the risks we plan for is the sudden unavailability of a staff member, leaving both a knowledge gap and a shortage of hands available to work. My go-to expression for this is “what if X was hit by a bus?”. However, I am often chastised for this and encouraged to frame it in a more positive way, the classic being “what if X won the lottery?”

I’ve given this some thought, and pessimistic though it is, I have two good reasons why it is better to plan for someone to be hit by a bus than win the lottery.

The first reason is: Statistics. Although “hit by a bus” is fairly specific, it is really just a stand-in for any accident that claims the life of the staff member. “Winning the lottery” is also fairly specific, but there are not many other positive events that it can stand in for. Having a baby? Sure, but you get at least a few months warning. A new job? You get at least 4 weeks warning for that, more if you work in a good environment. Inheriting an enormous fortune? Yeah right, might as well rely on the lottery. All of these things give you at least some buffer time for knowledge transfer and to get started on hiring a replacement.

But getting hit by a bus? Or a car? Or a heart attack in the middle of the night? Those are things that actually happen. How many people do you know that have won enough money on the lottery to quit overnight? And how many people of working age do you know that have died unexpectedly? I hope the answer is “no” to the last one, but I bet it isn’t.

But this alone is not enough reason to worry about your staff getting hit by a bus. No, the real reason is this:

When a colleague dies, people get sad.

A sad worker is not a productive worker. And guess who gets saddest? The people closest to your ex-employee. These of course are usually their closest team members. Who also happen to be the people most likely to be able to do what your discorporated corpse used to do. If you haven’t planned well, your business could be in serious trouble.

So don’t be the person watching your business fall apart as half your workforce mope around crying and attending funerals, and the only thing filling Worm-Food’s seat is dust. Plan for the actual worst cases, not for the wholesome Disney-fied ones that will never ever occur.

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Culprits may face costs of putting out reckless fires

As reported by The Age, people who start bushfires in Victoria (Australia) may be forced to pay the cost of extinguishing them. It then explains how putting out a large fire could cost millions of dollars.

Now I’m no expert, but it seems to me that the number of multi-millionaires starting bushfires is probably very small. So I’m curious to see how the policy would be implemented. The article references the Sentencing Act 1991, but the Act says that the court must “as far as practicable” take into account the financial circumstances of the offender. So they might squeeze a few bucks from them by that avenue, but not a lot in the grand scheme of things.

The article also mentions it opening the offender up to civil lawsuits. That is just going to lead to bankruptcy. I’m not so worried about the offender, but if they have a family then the family’s lives will be ruined too. Let’s assume it’s a bloke for the sake of pronouns (there is apparently a 6:1 ratio of males to females in the arson world, but I’m only talking about accidental arson so that figure is not applicable). So he goes to prison for a while and when he gets out can’t find a decent job, because who wants to employ a criminal? Meanwhile, his wife and kids are at home – no wait, their home got sold as part of the bankruptcy proceedings. The kids now have an unstable home life; they’ve lost their Dad (for a while at least) and have had to move into a rental house, maybe even changed schools. Their single mother is now working full time to support them, and probably struggling to make ends meet. It sure sucks to be the daughter of an angle-grinding enthusiast!

At the end of the day, maybe that’s not so bad. He did a bad thing and he got punished for it, with a little collateral damage which society is willing to accept. Even without the bankruptcy, the kids would still suffer. But I wonder how much of a deterrent seeking compensation will be? Let’s look at how this might play out both before and after the crackdown:

You are a man, living in country Victoria. It’s a 43°C day, hot, windy, and a total fire ban. You suddenly decide to do some welding.
Before: You think to yourself, “If I do the welding and start a fire I could go to prison! I’ll do it anyway.”
After: You think to yourself, “If I do the welding and start a fire, I could go to prison and go bankrupt! I’ll do it anyway.”

The main problem I see is not the strength of the deterrent, but in the failure of the man to accurately assess the risk of what he is doing. You can tell him it is dangerous, but that won’t necessarily mean he makes the mental connection that it really is dangerous. Humans suck at assessing risk! He has probably been welding for 20 years and never had any problems. Even if an errant spark gets out, he is probably pretty confident he can put it out. And maybe most of the time he can. But it is the one time in 20 years that he didn’t that is the problem.

So will the new sentencing guidelines help? I’m guessing that by themselves, almost certainly not. It is the marketing/advertising campaign that surrounds them that will have the real impact, so long as it is successful in making people evaluate the risk of their actions better and thus avoid dangerous activities on fire danger days.