Friday, 17 February 2017




Risk Management Procedures

What is Risk Management? Well, originally, it's a term used by the insurance industry but is increasingly being used by cultural institutions, particularly when taking stock of ones collection. After evaluating a collection, steps can then be written up and taken to reduce the effects on collection in the event of a disaster.

Many museums are starting to implement risk management procedures in their procedures & policies collections. Why bother? Some may think. We don't have any disasters! There are no tornadoes or flood zones or earthquakes!

Risk management procedures can help museums plan for disasters that do affect them and help to take steps to protect their assets and resources. You don't need to plan for each and every one. But what about fire? What about a broken pipe that pours water on your artifacts in the dark backroom no one ever checks? What about theft, or for those that it does affect, earthquakes or floods?

It is important from a conservation standpoint to have a risk management procedure and policy in place and to make sure that all staff understand it. To prepare a write-up, the collections usually undergo a risk assessment. By undertaking this, there are two outcomes that should happen:

1. the creation of a risk management policy and procedure
2. steps to better protect collections as resources allow

Risk Assessment

A risk assessment is usually undertaken  by the team to determine what risks may apply and how to best reduce the risk to the collection. It can be formal or informal, entire collection or a portion, but it definitely should be done for a better understanding of not only the objects in the collection, but the storage procedures currently being used.

During a risk assessment, ask questions like:

-what is the probability of the event happening?
-what percentage of the collection is at risk from such an event?
-what would be the extent of the event?

According to the Canadian Conservation Institute, it is important to consider the 10 Agents of Deterioration when taking on a risk assessment and apply each agent against the collection.

1. physical forces (earthquake, vibration, dropping)
2. fire (flames, soot)
3. water (floods, leaks)
4. criminal (robbery, vandalism)
5. pests (rodents, insects) *
6. pollutants (dust, gases)
7. light and UV radiation
8. incorrect temperature
9. incorrect humidity
10. dissociation/custodial neglect

* many museums will create their own pest management procedure, otherwise known as IPM or Integrated Pest Management.

As risks are identified, they should be prioritized and evaluated for the best response. A good way of doing this is creating a chart and asking a series of questions that will place the events in that chart. Some examples of questions are: has the risk occurred before? What will make it more or less likely to happen again? Is immediate action required? Who is responsible for this risk?

Creating the Management Strategies

Once you prioritize the risk, make sure to create a strategy to respond to the risk. This would be in your risk management procedure.

Risk management strategies should use common sense and sound judgement. Do not make it too technical or convoluted with unnecessary steps. Remember, the strategies are to be implemented in the case of emergencies and often fast action would be required. The best way to prepare for it is to create a simple and common sense strategy from the get go.

Cost-effective strategies are what to focus on; everyone knows museums have limited resources, so plan for effective strategies that work within your budget! Risk management strategies do not have to be fancy. It can be as simple as moving a table away from a pipe that is known to leak sporadically, or strapping boxes down onto a shelf in an earthquake-prone zone.


According to the BC Museums Association Risk Management Best Practices, creating a risk management policy & procedure help the museum in many other policies and procedures, including

1. insurance
2. appraisals
3. security
4. occupational health and safety
5. natural disasters
6. definition and clarification of responsibilities of staff
7. compliance with pertinent legislation

Once you and your team undertake a risk assessment for your new risk management policy & procedure, you will begin to realize the interconnection of all of this integral issues in the museum. With a better understanding of the current state of your collections, responsibilities, and possible risk events, you will be able to better protect and care for your collection. It is a bit of an undertaking and writing the paperwork can be a lengthy task, but it is not just a conservation tip or trick; it's a conservation must.

Note: Remember to check and update the procedure and policy regularly, perhaps more than the others. And celebrate with your team once it is created! You've just taken a large step in protecting your collection! Whoo!

Here are some examples:

National Gallery of Canada Risk Management Policy

ICOM'S Guidelines for Disaster Preparedness

Collections Trust (UK) Risk Management Procedure


American Museum of Natural History: Risk Assessment

Canadian Conservation Institute: Risk Management Workshop

Canadian Conservation Institute: Agents of Deterioration 

BC Museums Association: Risk Management Best Procedures

Museum SOS: Risk Management Applied to Preventative Conservation (Canadian Museum of Nature)

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