Looking Forward To Your Next Accident
Bob Baron, Ph.D
If I were to ask you the cause(s) of your last company accident or incident, you could probably give me precise details, as well as changes that might have been implemented to prevent the event from happening again.
On the other hand, if I were to ask you what the cause(s) of your next company accident or incident will be, as well as the contributing factors, you will probably give me a deer in the headlights look.
The difference between the two is that the former is reactive safety and the latter is proactive/predictive safety. While reactive safety will always have a place in safety management (learning from mistakes), a formal safety management system (SMS) puts more emphasis on the proactive and predictive elements. Or, addressing the factors that might lead to an accident or incident at some point in the future.
Sometimes I will ask attendees in my SMS classes this question: “What will be the cause of your next accident or incident?” Some hands will go up immediately, and unhesitatingly answer, “we won’t have any accidents or incidents in the future!” Other attendees will have that perplexed look on their faces, trying to figure out if it’s a trick question. And then, finally, after a few awkward minutes, a few attendees start throwing some thoughts at me. One might say, “fatigue,” another one shouts out, “not following procedures,” while another one says, “run out of fuel.”
Once I write down all the “factors” on a flip chart, I start creating various scenarios for the accident that has not happened yet (links in the chain). I don’t discount any of the factors (even seemingly trivial ones) that the attendees bring up in the class. After all, they are the frontline employees and are literally the eyes and the ears of the operation. This is an important and very practical exercise because the information can actually be applied to the company’s SMS for further analysis and risk management.
An SMS is a holistic program intended to identify and mitigate various safety risks within operators’ organizational and operating environments. This is accomplished through reactive, proactive, and predictive methods. Reactive refers to the things (accidents, incidents, occurrences, etc.) that have already happened. It is unfortunate that these events happened, but on the flip side they typically provide us with some of the most detailed and useful information, through a thorough investigation into root cause(s). In other words, it is easier to quantify the event, and as a result, that makes it easier to present the case to management for action. This is reactive safety, and although it can provide excellent information, it doesn’t do much to prevent an accident or incident from happening in the first place. Unfortunately, many companies still rely extensively on reactive safety as an accident prevention method (think “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?”).
One of the benefits of SMS is that is promotes today’s paradigm shift towards proactive and predictive safety. Proactive and predictive measures are not intended to replace reactive measures, but instead to complement them (there will always be events and thus there will always be reactive responses). However, much more emphasis is placed on preventing those events with the use of proactive and predictive tools. A proactive safety example is the use of hazard reporting forms by employees. Predictive safety examples include a Line Operations Safety Audit (LOSA) program or Flight Data Monitoring (FDM) program.
In summary, although it might be a tad challenging to predict your next safety event, it’s what proactive and predictive safety is all about, and it’s important! Even more challenging might be trying to persuade management to spend money on preventing an accident that may never happen. But—you got this—because looking forward to your next accident is the heart of accident prevention!
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