Risk Management for Kids


Tags: Community Outreach Consequence Office Life Probability Risk Based Inspection Risk Management

One of our consultants brings Risk Based Inspection into the grade school classroom for Career Day.

Risk Management for 5th Graders

Risk Matrix

A few weeks ago, I was asked to give a 20 minute presentation to 6 different classes about my job during Career Day at my son's elementary school. While I am comfortable giving presentations, I knew that this one was going to be challenging: How do you talk about Risk Based Inspection (RBI) with 5th graders? I chose to describe our career field as "Risk Management" instead of "Risk Based Inspection". I thought this would help keep the discussion more general in nature to better promote understanding of risk concepts, and to discuss the Risk Management goal of preventing failures in terms of something the students could relate to (i.e. not process equipment).

Failure Modes

Since all students had likely operated one, I used a flashlight to discuss Risk Management. I first posed a brainstorming question: "What is the most common reason that a flashlight fails?". While answers included everything from batteries, bulbs, switches, wiring, to "I lost the flashlight", and even "the flashlight was run over and crushed", the consensus for all groups was batteries ("dead" or "worn out").

Limited Resources

Once we established that batteries were the most common cause of flashlight failures, I introduced the real-world problem of limited resources by asking: "Do you put new batteries in a flashlight each time that you use it?" The students answered no, and provided reasons why including the cost of batteries and time required to replace batteries. I then posed a challenge: "There are three identical flashlights that may need to be used simultaneously, but you only have one new set of replacement batteries."

Probability - How likely?

For our probability discussion, I introduced the three identical flashlights as follows: one with one year old batteries, one with three year old batteries, and one with new batteries. While some students asked "Which one had been used more?", my answer was "We don't know". I then asked them to rank the flashlights from "Most likely to fail" to "Least likely to fail". The consensus was that the flashlight with three year old batteries was most likely to fail, and this flashlight was their overwelming choice when asked: "Whice one do you want to change the batteries in first?"

Consequence - How serious?

To introduce consequence, I gave the students three scenarios where the might need a flashlight and asked "How serious would it be if your flashlight failed in this situation?" The three scenarios where a flashlight might be needed were: "In a classroom in case the power goes out", "To find your way our of a dark cave", and "Outside on a sunny day". The students easily identified "To find your way out of a dark cave" as the most serious situation and "Outside on a sunny day" as the least serious situation.

Risk - Probability and Consequence

To bring together the concepts of probability and consequence, I assigned the three flashlights to the three situations graphically on a risk matrix:

  • The flashlight with three year old batteries will be needed outside on a sunny day (highest probability x lowest consequence="middle" risk)
  • The flashlight with one year old batteries will be needed to find your way out of a dark cave (middle probability x highest consequence="highest risk")
  • The flashlight with new batteries will be needed in case the power goes out in the classroom (lowest probability x middle consequence="lowest risk")


I concluded the presentation with the question: "Based upon risk, now which flashlight would your replace the batteries first?" It was great to finish up our discussion by talking about why they changed their minds and now chose the flashlight with the one year old batteries.

Comment on this article


8/9/2018 - Anthony Fernandez
Dear Leon, Hearty Congratulations on an excellent approach to teaching kids concepts of Risk Management. Your choice of a Flashlight as an example was indeed innovative and easy for the kids to relate to. I was confronted with the challenge of sharing thoughts to my six-year-old Grandson Noah on Risk Management and on an impulse googled for "Risk Management for Kids", and found your amazing article. Thank you. Warm Regards. (Tony) Anthony W.J. Fernandez Maritime Risk & Casualty Management Consultant Visiting Professor Maritime Law & Insurance Law - Gujarat National Law University 405, Vyapar Bhavan, 49, P. D'Mello Road, Carnac Bunder, Mumbai- 400009 Cell: (+91) 98921 92110 Email: awjfernandez@hotmail.com

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