Risk Assessment – The Lemons Story

At Lloyd Figgins Limited we spend much of our time assessing and mitigating risk for our clients, often in the more remote environments of our planet. We see all sorts of risk assessments, some of them are effective tools in identifying and managing hazards, however, all too often they are over complicated and onerous documents. Our approach to risk mitigation has been cultivated over 15 years experience and having worked in over 100 countries.
I don’t know where the story below came from and despite various attempts to find its author, its origin remains somewhat of a mystery. However, it is a good example of how we should view risk and remember that common sense is key to preventing incidents. Overseas travel can, and should be, a rewarding experience, but there are also many pitfalls out there. So, the simplicity of this story serves as a good way to look out for the things that can cause you or your business harm.
The Lemons Story
It’s a summer evening in Northern British Columbia.  The water is clear and glassy as the paddle stroke hums through the water.  The Douglas Firs are reflected in the lake’s mirror like surface.  The canoe is edging toward the end of a nine-day trip and the taste of our first cold beer is on the tips of our tongues. Not far now, the cedar deck is fast approaching with the promise of hot showers and a mattress.
Our party of four sit with post trip smiles studying the cold beers in front of us while the lodge owner joins us: “You have an amazing place here, the lake is so beautiful and peaceful” I chirp up looking out over the picture-book view. The weathered face turns slowly and considers, “It’s not always like this, last year two people had their lemons come up”. We make eye contact around the group, perplexed expressions from all and I ask, “How do you mean ‘their lemons came up’?” She turns “well life’s like a one armed bandit slot machine, and if four lemons come up you’re out”
Still confused we press for more; “Sorry to be slow on this but could you explain about the lemons?”
“Life’s about looking out for lemons, each lemon is a hazard which unless it gets sorted could prove a problem.  If you get four of these it is not looking good.  The paddlers last year had the lemons lining up:
• They were novices and not confident swimmers – Lemon 1
• They were not wearing buoyancy aids – Lemon 2
• They ignored advice and were paddling in the middle of the lake – Lemon 3
• It was 5.30pm in the afternoon and starting to get dark, the wind picked up and they capsized – Lemon 4.
Four lemons and sadly they died . So it is like a risk assessment looking at hazards and what can go wrong.
You can call it what you like, but it’s common sense – we just talk about looking out for lemons.”


It’s not a complicated story, but explains very well that if we ignore the warning signs things can go wrong and go wrong very quickly. As with so many things in life, if we don’t do something about the small risks, they can quickly escalate into the bigger things that we are not equipped to handle. Therefore it’s important to act while you still can and while you have a degree of control over your situation.
We have provided risk and crisis management training all over the world and our number one rule for avoiding a poor situation is to prepare thoroughly for where you are going and do your research. Never push a bad position, it’s much more likely to get worse rather than get better. Yet, time and time again we see people getting into trouble purely and simply because they didn’t recognise the warning signs and do something about them.
There’s no simple solution, but you can reduce your chances of becoming a casualty by making sure your risk mitigation plans are robust and you have appropriate emergency response plans in place. And, look out for those lemons!

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