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9. Dangerous Behaviour - the Gunpowder Model

Dangerous behaviour – the Gunpowder Model


Risk assessments come in many forms. While formal risk assessments may highlight potential risks, they tend to be too complicated to be used “on the hoof” when the practitioner is in the field and too insensitive to the subtle variations found in practice. What practitioners need is something that is both nuanced and fast!


It is well documented that the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. Despite that, most of the time the risk may be reasonably low. For example, a service user may be known to have had a violent past and yet they have since turn their life around and are now committed to using their lived experience to help others. It may, therefore, be absolutely appropriate for a professional to continue working with this individual. There is, however, still a risk and how the practitioner reads that risk will determine the decisions they make. Should they see them alone, should they make home visits, is it the right time to address sensitive issues?


To address this, I propose a Gunpowder Model. The point about gunpowder is that it is made up out of three constituent parts. Put any two together and a flamethrower wouldn’t set it off – but put all three together and all it takes is the smallest spark. When it comes to assessing personal safety there are also three “ingredients” or factors, but, in practice, we don’t always have all the information that we need and so the presence of any of the three factors should make us alert:


With one factor, we should stay alert (particularly to the possibility of the other two factors) and carry on but with a back up plan (hopefully discussed in supervision).

With two factors, we might decide to carry on but with additional precautions put in place (see them in a safe place, have colleagues with us etc.) and be very alert to the possibility of the third factor.

With all three factors, withdraw, alert others and consult with colleagues


So, what are the three ingredients (for a dynamic risk assessment, not gunpowder!)


1.     A history of violent behaviour.

2. Significant stress.

3.     Recent changes.


Well, this is a bite-size blog, so I’ll discuss these in more detail next time!

Dr Iain Bourne’s Gunpowder Model for Snap Risk Assessments
Dynamic Risk Assessments


Stay safe


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