How Safe is Safe Enough?
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How Safe is Safe Enough?

Leadership, Safety and Risk Management

Greg Alston

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eBook - ePub

How Safe is Safe Enough?

Leadership, Safety and Risk Management

Greg Alston

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About This Book

Safety is not easy, it is a full time effort, and is equally important whether people are on the job or on personal time. If an organization is serious about mission success, it must take 'risk' seriously as well. Leaders need to be involved in the risk game at every turn, and understand the key elements (discussed throughout this book) that help them to win. Winning the risk game is what safety is all about. As in operational success, risk management requires the best human faculties to achieve victory; talent of organizational players and commitment from top leadership rule the day. The book covers leadership, safety programs, and risk management for organizations and individuals. It helps in professional development, grooming current and future leaders to understand their roles in safety and risk management. Central to the author's message are: Seven truths of safety that the author discovered as a senior safety officer. Four roadblocks to achieving zero mishaps that must be aggressively addressed. Nine elements to risk reduction, with which leaders must become familiar. He establishes the importance of an organizational leader's role in the safety/risk management game and provides the answer to, 'How safe is safe enough?' Often, managers at various levels do not have an understanding of what goes into a safety program, this book tells them, from an expert's view. The readership includes: executives and middle management; all leaders as a professional development book and students. It is also a supplemental textbook for safety and risk management courses.

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Chapter 1

Managing Risk in an Uncertain World

‘We are deeply involved in fighting the war on terrorism and I compliment each of you on the success in that endeavor. Protection of our assets so that we can continue this fight is absolutely imperative. I need your support in the trenches to make sure that we develop the right mindset about risk management and doing the job right. It’s hard and it takes time but there is no better way to ensure that we as commanders protect our most valuable asset, the men and women of the U.S. Air Force.’ General John Jumper, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, safety message to commanders, June 2002
It was a beautiful day. The deep blue sky and calm air promised serenity; the comforting warmth offered a sense of peace. I assumed it would be a routine day in the Pentagon, wishing more that I could be outside enjoying the tranquil summer morning. Too soon, the news broke of a terror attack on the World Trade Center in New York; the sight on the viewing screen was all consuming. My fixation on the burning towers, however, was abruptly interrupted. The Pentagon jolted with a loud bang as American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the base of the wall at Corridor Four. I gazed from my 5th floor window to the opposing side of the building to see the huge orange fireball with billowing black smoke rising into the air. As the Pentagon alarm sounded, 1 evacuated with the crowd along the ‘E’ Ring hallway amidst a scrolling veil of smoke. I proceeded down the stairwell to the exit at Corridor Two. Only minutes after the attack, I stood in the south parking lot and watched the Pentagon burn, and I wondered how we failed to see it coming. A new order was about to take shape for America, and the world.
Countries in all regions discovered they could no longer overlook risk from outside their borders, and as sobering a thought, from within their borders. National risk management requires we go to the source of the threat. In the case of the attack on 11 September 2001, eliminating risk requires we destroy the terror infrastructure globally, to include elements within our own nations, and root out and destroy terrorists, one by one if necessary. National security and the well-being of civilization as a whole depends upon awareness and aggressive action by our leaders to eliminate such risks, and to ensure we are safe enough. This is one example of how leadership contributes to winning the risk game and enhances our survival. While terrorists present one kind of threat, individual and organizational risks come in many forms. Both apparent and subtle hazards exist that we cannot overlook, which pose different threats and require aggressive action, and a change in our approach toward risk.
This morning, 1 February 2003, I watched on television yet another catastrophic event in safety, the break-up of the Space Shuttle Columbia. The nation, and the world, was in shock, observing an international accident of horrific proportion. The glowing streak resembled a sad, surreal tear for humanity, streaming from space over the Texas sky, settling upon its origin Earth. While it was a somber sight that touched our very souls, it was also one that will raise serious questions on safety. The ensuing investigation will answer the question, ‘Is the NASA space program safe enough?’ A parallel question faces all leaders of all organizations, ‘How safe is safe enough?’ It is an ever-present question that must be revisited as organizational conditions change, as new technologies evolve, and as global perceptions dictate.
As a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force, I was taught to know the enemy. I had to be aware of the weapons they will use to kill me (both from the air and from the ground). I studied their tactics, their numbers and any other information that could help me to win, or at least to help me stay alive in order to fight again another day. I considered the ‘threat’ in every aspect of mission planning to ensure success and survival-to ensure I was safe enough, yet still accomplish the mission. In essence, my awareness was heightened as I searched for hazards along my path, considered options to eliminate or reduce those hazards, and selected the option with the least risk that still allowed mission accomplishment. Fighter pilot thinking is not unlike the processes required by organizational leaders to accomplish their missions with the least amount of risk, by ensuring their organizations are safe enough.
Perhaps the recent historic events of ‘9/11’ and the Space Shuttle Columbia accident will awaken leaders globally to take a similarly active role as fighter pilots into building a safety culture within their respective organizations. With these recent catastrophic events, America and the free world lost a fragile innocence, but so has each organization and each individual. We perceive our universe differently now, though it remains the same as it always was. Our indifference to risk has changed. Where once we may have inconsiderately strove for a blissful coexistence with universal characters, we must now strive for awareness of threats that share our place in time. The threats, hazards and risks have always existed, yet people have often chosen to ignore them, or lacked the initiative to find the unknown unknowns–a losing strategy.
Awareness, motivation, and commitment from leaders at all levels factor into winning the risk game. We cannot ignore reality, organizational leaders have no choice–they must coexist with risk. To ensure they are safe enough, however, organizations can choose to better navigate through the probabilities and severities of the universal risks they face. Awareness plays a key role for leaders in risk reduction, as they address four basic questions:
1. What are the hazards associated with our activity?
2. Which hazards can we eliminate or control?
3. Does the benefit of the activity outweigh the leftover risks?
4. Can we live with the result (consequence) if the probabilities play out in the worst way?
Once awareness is achieved, motivation is simple: mishap prevention is a profit multiplier. The financial bottom line is the driving force for risk management, but seeking out threats and reducing risks takes corporate commitment. An organizational commitment to such threat assessment begins the risk reduction process:
1. Assess all known threats.
2. Seek out unknown threats.
3. Consider options to eliminate or mitigate risks.
4. Eliminate risks where possible.
5. Control the risks you cannot eliminate.
6. Monitor and reassess.
In their quest to be safe enough, the above process helps management to win the risk game. However, leaders at all levels, not only senior executives, need awareness of the general concept of risk, and the indisputable fact that accepting risk is a choice.
The term ‘risk’ derives from the early Italian risicare, which means, ‘to dare’. In this sense, risk is a choice rather than a fate (Bernstein, 1996). The actions we dare to take, or not take, are what the risk game is all about. Hazards abound, and each pose risks that are assessed comparing their probability of occurrence and the severity of the result should the probability play out. Taking no action to reduce risk is also a choice, daring natural events to simply not happen. Non-action may be a leader’s choice if the assessment is, ‘We are safe enough’. Such a choice must weigh the organizational efforts to eliminate or reduce risks compared to all the variables, such as available resources, mission, short-term and strategic goals, and the possible legal perils of non-action to a known risk. When combating risk, it is generally accepted that action is a much better choice than no action, where we can intervene in the probability-severity mix (Chapter 4).
Risks present problems in personal lives, organizations and entire nations, problems we must not ignore. As we coexist with risk, we must lead with the proper choices to minimize our exposure. We need to gain awareness of hazards, and then expend energy and effort to eliminate or control the risks; otherwise we are not safe enough.
‘Never Walk Past a Problem.’ General Ralph E. Eberhart, Commander, Air Combat Command
General Eberhart made the above quote to a Commanders Conference at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia in 1999. Having a zeal for safety, his comments to leaders who could make a difference were appreciated. Too often leaders appear aware of a problem, individually and corporately, yet fail to act. These failures occur for a variety of reasons–busy schedules, preoccupation, limited resources, inadequate energy, or in the most troubling cases, negligence. Too often, the first indication of negligence occurs when the accident investigation is underway. Such leadership renders an organization not safe enough. To win the risk game: achieve awareness first, of risks and responsibilities to counter them, and then confront the problems facing our personal and organizational worlds.
We live in a multi-planed universe, where hazards abound that we must not walk past. We measure our well-being in many ways: health, job, organization, group, relationship, family, image and quality of life–these often measure how we ‘stack up’ in life. Routine attacks by hazards that assault our quality of life ‘determinants’ can diminish our lives, cause havoc on corporate operations, and ruin relationships; yet, we can eliminate or reduce many of those hazards with awareness and personal effort. Along with our new awakening to threats and associated risks, we have a duty to ourselves, stakeholders, and associations to conduct our lives differently; with our eyes open and our spirits ready to act to be safe enough, both for personal well-being and corporate survival.
In our daily activities, we normally do not come face to face with terrorists, but we face equally destructive risks that must be managed for optimum performance and quality of life. Individuals make up organizations and have similar associated risks, but group goals and market shares have risk as well. Our awareness mindset can serve as a foundation to build a new mindful order for our group, division, or corporation ultimately to win the risk game. Without a concerted effort to thwart the risks, losing is the result.

Losing the Risk Game

Safety occupies extreme importance to every organization and individual, and its achievement occurs when proper risk management becomes a part of the culture of daily operations. If we are not safe enough and lack risk awareness, or ignore the need for safeguards, it remains just a matter of time until an accident occurs. The primary way organizations gain motivation toward a solid safety program rests in considering the stakes. Inadequate risk management costs a great deal. Generally speaking, the best argument for a strong risk management program is the cost of not having one. Cost measurement happens in several ways (Chapter 3), sometimes involving human injury or death, damaged corporate image, or lost potential. Routinely, tangible and intangible costs reduce to a dollar amount. When a person dies unnecessarily, the organization faces direct and indirect dollar tangibles such as insurance deductibles, training costs, and lost production. The intangibles include the obvious emotional costs of grief, sadness, and decreased morale that affect the organization. The corporate distractions that accompany grief and low morale impact job performance and, in the end, production goals. Thus, winning the risk game is imperative to organizational success.

Winning the Risk Game

Most people find fighting hazards a difficult, full-time job. In addition, seeking out and reducing hazards can challenge existing resources of time and money. Why then, should organizational leaders incorporate a safety game plan that identifies and eliminates or controls risks? Because ultimately, ‘safety’ functions as an operational enhancer and a profit multiplier. A well-run safety program offers positive dividends to any organization and can achieve ‘safe enough’ status, and possibly reach zero accidents. Organizations can win the risk game, but they must play as a team, with guidance from the corporate top and commitment at every leadership level down to the individuals performing actions.
From 1999–2001, the U.S. Air Force’s Air Combat Command enjoyed two great commanders, General Ralph Eberhart and General John Jumper. They both provided insights and an unwavering commitment to safety. They established a foundation that gave the charter to fight and win the risk war. Fortunately, these top leaders influenced an unparalleled success for two years, achieving the lowest mishap rates in the command’s history in both flight and ground safety; records that still stand today. Most importantly, lives were saved and valuable assets preserved that now help prosecute the war on terrorism. Leadership’s active role made this success possible, but it also required a team effort.
Success required a 24 hours a day, 7 days per week effort from all members in ...

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