Blog | Raising the Standard for Safety and Operational Risk
Published 19 July 2018 by
A feat of modern engineering, buildings around the world are growing notably taller and more impressive as they combine innovation, technology and functionality to set new standards to the definition of “Skyscraper.” The fourth tallest skyscraper in China, the eighth tallest in the world, is the Shanghai World Financial Center (SWFC) stands at 1614.2 feet. Most remarkable is the vast considerations that go into the design and construction of these beasts. Not only do they have to be functional and aesthetically pleasing, they must also be safe and secure, prepared for an array of eventualities that may come at any given moment.
The SWFC is a prime example of the forethought taken in the design of these skyscrapers. With its foundation laid in 1997, the 101-story building wasn’t completed until 2008 after considerable planning (and changes) to mitigate ongoing safety concerns and risks. The building was designed using three interacting, parallel structural systems required to combat the high winds, earthquakes and typhoons that could occur in the environment. It can accept the simultaneous loss of multiple structural elements without failing. After September 11, 2001, the building was further modified to withstand the impact of a plane.
As humanity “scrapes the sky” with its tall marvels, they must also account for the countless occupants within and around their creations. Holding a great percentage of our waking hours, these dwellings have safety and risk embedded throughout.
Zero—your risk appetite when it comes to safety and risk
There are four categories of risk: 1) high impact – high probability, 2) high impact – low probability, 3) low impact – high probability and 4) low impact – low probability. Daily, individuals and businesses draw the line somewhere across this quadrant through the choices they make, thus identifying their risk appetite. The fundamental question is always, “What is your risk appetite?” When it comes to HSE, safety and operational risk, there should be no appetite for risk.
Evident in the measures taken, the stakeholders of SWFC also had a relatively small risk appetite. What are the statistical chances of an earthquake occurring or a plane crashing into a building? These are quite uncommon risks yet because their impact can be so drastically devastating (high impact – low probability risks), they have been mitigated regardless. Should organizations be any different? Businesses need to take a zero-tolerance approach when it comes to ensuring safety and mitigating operational risks.
The Human Factor in Sustaining Safety and Operational risk Strategies
As with the SWFC, safety and risk need to be embedded throughout an organization. The reactive, compliance-based strategies from standards and regulations are no longer enough. It remains a fact that we still experience safety situations which could have been, and should be in the future, avoided. And despite today’s technical advances, organizations still struggle with mastering the fundamental element of their business: notably, the workforce.
Why a Worker-Centric Strategy
From a risk perspective, many sources attribute the operational failures today to human error. There was inadequate information, fatigue, inconsistencies or just poor decision-making which ultimately caused the failure or safety incident. This begs the question: if human error still plays a large part in the cause of these safety and risk incidents, shouldn’t today’s safety and operational risk strategies address the workforce issue? (Or conversely, if today’s strategies focus on the processes and policies within an operation and not the workers actually executing, then it makes sense that human error would still be attributed as a main cause for safety incidents.)
Industry bodies, research and practitioners are acknowledging the need to transition from process-driven and policy-centric strategies to worker-centric methodologies to propel risk mitigation and improve safety. There are four core reasons that organizations should transition to worker-centric methodologies.
- Inherent Constraints in Processes, Policies and Standards: Current safety and operational risk management practices are by nature constrained. Predominantly reactive, they cannot manage all eventualities. To create a sustainable safety and operational risk strategy, organizations must deploy methods to manage the factor that can make an impact on unknown situations—the workforce.
- Embedded Organizational Weaknesses: Policies, processes, procedures and programs all have latent organizational weaknesses. They are exposed to flawed defenses and error precursors presented by unfavorable conditions. Time pressure, mental and physical fatigue, seniority, distractions and mental state (lack of confidence/overconfidence) are among a few error precursors that process-driven and policy-centric strategies are exposed to with little defense or management measures.
- Lack of Adaptability and Agility in Dynamic Situations: Process-driven and policy-centric strategies are institutionalized within an organization, often followed by stringent compliance protocols. Similar to its reactive origin, this institutionalization makes these strategies rigid; they lack the flexibility and adaptability to the daily realities of an operation. In some situations, the adherence to the “standard” can even preclude a more appropriate decision that poses an incongruent view, thereby causing an incident or failure.
- Human Design Fallibility: Current strategies are created, developed and implemented by (a few) humans who are by nature fallible. More often, supporting systems are created by subject matter experts for subject matter experts, failing to encompass the larger workforce. Strategies often exist detached from the operational realities and insights of frontline workers.
As SWFC adopted new measures to mitigate new risks, organizations need to transition to more sustainable and effective strategies to manage the risks they see daily. Policies and procedures will never overcome all inadequacies of a workforce but the workforce can in real terms overcome the inadequacies of policies and procedures. It is time to rethink our approach to safety and operational risk, merging the standards, policies and processes together with the workers responsible for execution on a day-to-day basis. Only then can organizations implement and sustain a truly zero-tolerance policy when it comes to operational safety and risk management.
Designed to close the loop between process and person, MySafety enables organizations to lower their risk appetite, delivering detailed insights which give every business the intelligence they need to best ensure sustainable safety and operational risk management strategies and business outcomes. MySafety, a workforce-centric safety and operational risk management solution, enables organizations to proactively capture those critical operational insights required to reduce failures and improve safety. These insights empower workers across every level of an organization to make more intelligent operational decisions with less risk in the thousands of choices they encounter each day.