consciousness@work 14 – August 3, 2022 Safety Management Systems – Part One, Highlights of Presentation by Captain Bob Waltz, Ph.D.
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Safety Management Systems – Part One
Highlights of Presentation by Captain Bob Waltz, Ph.D.
2022 FAERF Institute Summer Webinar Series

Written by: Carolyn V. Coarsey, Ph.D.

August 3, 2022

   On July 27, 2022, the FAERF Institute held the second webinar of the 2022 Summer Series on the subject of Safety Management Systems. Approximately 70 members from around the globe participated in the webinars which were held at three different times throughout the day to accommodate the various time zones of our members.

     Captain Bob Waltz, Ph.D., who recently received his doctoral degree in Aerospace Science Safety Management Systems (SMS) at the University of North Dakota, led the webinar. Captain Bob organized the presentation around a series of questions to which the audience responded using an interactive polling system. Captain Bob also serves on the Business & Industry Advisory Board for the FAERF Institute. Jeff Morgan, Chairman of the Family Assistance Education & Research Foundation (FAERF), assisted Captain Bob in the presentation.


Question One: Readiness to Respond

    The first question Captain Bob posed to the audience pertained to readiness to respond to an emergency at work. The question was: “I am confident that my team/organization can handle any unplanned or unforeseen issue.” True or False.

     Approximately 73% of those voting answered “true” to the question, leaving about 27% answering “false”. Captain Bob responded to these results by saying that the more significant part of the audience was likely comprised of folks who are involved in the emergency response realm. And are therefore familiar with the precepts of safety management systems, whether they execute under that paradigm or not.

     He further noted that it is vital that a quarter of responders on the call who did not consider themselves quite “there yet” may be challenged in meeting unforeseen circumstances. Capt. Bob related the pandemic as an example of an event that no one had seen before and left everyone challenged to respond. “As far as the number of issues that were challenges for each and everyone one of our organizations, especially those of us in travel, leisure, high reliability, transportation, all those things…what an environment we had to operate, seeing things and experiencing regulatory safety risks, other risks that we had never seen before.”

     Capt. Bob explained that a safety management system is a paradigm, “It’s a mindset as well as a toolkit, the way I prefer to look at it for managing risks that can take many forms. Generally speaking, we are talking about risk where it could be an accident, incident, injury to our employees, destruction of equipment, and those kinds of things. And you can look at risk out in other areas as well. Knowing that risk is part of our business, how do we mitigate that?”


SMS is a Top Down and Bottom Up System

    “SMS must have full support from the leadership team,” Capt. Bob further explained. “Leadership must ensure that the teams tasked with this work can accomplish their job. And also, there must be buy-in from the line employees. The folks out there doing the customer-facing (work) for it to be living and breathing because it is something that changes and it changes over time as the risk environment in which we operate changes over time. All of us have a level of risk. Any of us who are customer-facing have a level of risk. That risk could take form even in the most extreme instances. Look today at things like active shooter potential, infrastructure challenges, weather challenges, all of them.

We Must Support our External and Internal Customers

    At the same time, for all of those things that we face and we must have a plan, so we're ready to respond not only to support our external customers but our internal customers as well. Because again, if we're not supporting that team, who is? Its primary function is to ensure the continuity of the business and the care for our external customers. Then we are at peril as well.

    So why should you implement an SMS? There are a host of reasons. Hopefully, we've covered some of those, and I'll talk about those in a little more depth down the road as I'll give you some pretty fresh information there from a group of safety leaders for one of the surveys that I did as part of my dissertation. But strictly speaking, a safety management system allows an organization to anticipate risk and mitigate risk by avoiding it, building in controls, and by building in education.

    There are lots of things that you can do to help prevent and lower that overall risk level in the organization, and then it also helps you adapt to change. The other great thing about a safety management system, whether you take on the entire system or not, is that it allows the organization a lens through which to view change. Such that when you're considering change, maybe it's the implementation of a new process, maybe it's opening a new location somewhere in the world, maybe it's bringing on a new piece of equipment into the operation.

    Whatever it is, change can potentially increase the risk level to both employees and your customers. Having this lens when considering change, gives the organization a way of understanding upfront, first and foremost, (the issue of) can we keep risk at an acceptable level. And if you can't, that should beg the question: ‘is this proposed change worth the potential cost?’ Those are questions that an SMS can help you answer.”


“There are four key components to an SMS and I'll say plus one.”

    “That plus one is Emergency Response. But the four key components start with safety policy. The organization has to have a clear thought, and a clear vision of where they want to be and how they want to operate, and that takes a little time to establish. But it's critical that an organization spend some time on that safety policy because if not, you find yourself in a position where you're going to have folks in the organization who aren't buying in, don't understand, or can't implement. And we all know what happens in those cases.

    Again, if you make a rule that no one can follow or propose a policy that no one can understand, it just gets sloughed off to the side, and the organizational momentum continues to roll. So the policy is critical, the safety promotion piece of this. Again. Once you have that policy. Ensuring that it gets out. Ensuring that everyone in the organization is aware. Ensuring that they understand their role within it and they understand they have the ability to change it. And that they are crucial the line employee or forward-facing folks are crucial to the success of the safety of an organization’s safety risk management program.

Having a documented and objective process to assess risk is essential to look at the probability and severity of adverse outcomes

     Understand what that could do to the organization. And then documenting those mitigations that are put into place and then actually evaluating them. And that's where the assurance piece comes in going back. And once we go through these things, we have a policy, we've taught our folks what it is, and we've got them energized to go do. We're performing safety risk management (SRM) at the lowest appropriate level within the organization. That doesn't have to be something the executives do. That's better done by two or three folks down on the line. That's where that first level of SRM should be done by appropriately trained folks. We document the outcome of that SRM, and then we have assurance; we monitor how well we are doing, are employees doing what we think they should be doing? Are they doing what we directed them to do? And if they are, is it effective?

    All of that cycle that is the makeup of an SMS Emergency response is the last. But again. One of those standalone but critical processes and key to who we are here today in our organization is that when and you don't want to say the unforeseen happens. But when an event occurs, it could be an accident or incident. It's something significant that we are ready as an organization to respond to. Especially if that event is a little off script, so that's what we'll spend a little bit more time talking about later in the presentation is that emergency response.” Capt. Bob posed the following question for discussion.


When considering a change in our processes, business model, and/or operations, what's the first item that's considered in your organization? Is it risk? Is it potential reward from the change? Is it the cost of that change? Or is it employee satisfaction?

Capt Bob reviewed the results of the poll:

    “Six folks thought risk was the first thing considered. None put reward. I find that interesting. That may be because of the group of folks we have in our meeting that you think from an executive level, potentially, that one of the first reasons for a corporation to make a change is you're hoping to make something, get a profit from it really, when you think about it, at least in the traditional mindset. I find it interesting that reward doesn't pop up more highly. I think if I provided the same group of questions to a group of non-initiated SMS executive leaders, I would get different answers than this.

    Cost, again, that is true because folks will balance that return on investment capital that ROI, see, so I see that. And then employee satisfaction. And that's interesting again, depending upon the company. But again, we did say first, so kudos to those who said risk is the highest. It looks like our work here is finished.

There should be a single named accountable executive, might be the CEO, might be the COO, might be someone at that level.

    So, if you want to drink a cup of coffee and skip the next slide or two, that would be fine. But don't do that because it's more fun this way. But for folks with cost, that's not unusual. So again, the purpose of the SMS and maybe the quote that I like to use with it realizing in the safety management system there should be a single named accountable executive might be the CEO, might be the COO, might be someone at that level. But when that person is as comfortable in talking about risk and understands risk mitigation and safety risk management to the same extent they understand general accounting principles, then our work as safety professionals is through; they're not going to need us anymore. I have a sneaky suspicion they're going to need us for quite a while.”





    “This slide, Managing Change by Managing Risk is a little bit of an eye chart, but I wanted to bring this one in very fresh. This is the results, one of the results of part of my dissertation where I surveyed twelve safety professionals at a Fortune 500 company, high-reliability organization company that had just been through the implementation of safety management systems. And given that, I thought it was interesting to gather their feedback.

    So, as you can see under the SMS initiative, what are some of the things that are important about it? Why would you want those benefits? What are some of the challenges? And again, some recommendations for other carriers and that assurance piece measures. I'm not going to go into this in a terrible amount of detail because each of these subtopics is worthy of a discussion in and of itself. But they're also worthy of note, especially for those folks who have not yet implemented a full-blown safety management system.

    This information can be helpful to you that, first and foremost, the role of leadership is vital. And I would be curious as we go forward, some of the thoughts from some of the other professionals in the room about their experience with leadership in their organizations. You've got to have leaders that make this a priority, that put resources into it, and that is clear in the mission statement of the organization. Safety is addressed, and talk the talk and walk the walk. Folks have to see them out there doing it. We've all heard the motto “safety first,” and you almost just don't want to say that anymore because it's become so trite. It doesn't mean it's less meaningful, but the words have become less influential in that you have to see that and then execute it at every stage of your organization or it is just that.

    It is just words (unless that leader) sets the tone, has clear responsibility, you have to have that strong, accountable executive, and they have to lead through the implementation. So those factors are critical. The benefits of SMS implementation it's the risk reduction, cost reduction, all of those things, knowing what's coming down the road that's very important to you, and that's what SMS helps you do. So, more power to the companies that say to go down that road. The challenges, again are all those things you can think of internally that don't make easy hard. It doesn't have to be rocket science. It can be simple enough that two or three people in a room can execute it. You keep some records, and then you monitor. It can be that simple. And again, measures are key. But what's important here is that folks who have just done it can give some examples to folks who are now thinking of doing it. That's also some of the help that we can give you all. If that comes along the way, that's something your organization was interested in.”


    At this point, Capt. Bob invited Jeff Morgan to comment on how SMS directly relates to FAERF’s Certificate Program. “We're going to continue to discuss SMS in a way that helps you better understand how this fits in with your role either as the Emergency Manager for your company or the Humanitarian Assistance Response Program Manager, Care Team leaders, et cetera. Because I can see where some people might say, well, wait a minute, if I'm the Care Team Manager, what role does this have to do with me? And so we can keep answering that question. But I think on a more acute basis, it's always important to understand that if you do have a significant response to a mass casualty or other types of a critical event. It doesn't mean you throw out all of your best practices regarding safety to focus on the emergency.

Particularly in a mass casualty situation where you're focused on caring for people. You don't want to suddenly create an environment where now they're going to be in harm's way.  

    As we talk more about the new online course that we've been working on and most of you are aware of, there will be information about how this all connects and how your Emergency Response plan connects to your Humanitarian Assistance Response Program (HARP). And so, we'll continue to talk about this as we go along. But always, please feel free to ask questions and we have the resources to assist you with sample information or answering questions over email. And we look forward to having more of these discussions.”

    Captain Bob followed with, “Thank you, Jeff; that’s, I think, a critical point that can't be overstated. Regardless of your enterprise, your company, whatever it is, is operating under a full-blown safety management system. Jeff brings up a good point in the moment when that call comes, when it's time to activate and we have to put folks, deploy folks either on scene into an area maybe in country somewhere where we don't usually send a lot of folks, all of those things, SMS Safety Risk Management applies there too.

    And even if you're just asking the questions of what's the risk to our folks who are responding, what are some of the potential issues that could crop up for the care team that maybe is deployed in the country? All of those things are vital questions to ask because the worst thing you can do, one of the worst things you could do is in your effort to respond, you cause another event simply because the team didn't have enough time to kind of just take a minute, doesn't take a lot of time. But consider does our plan address, does mitigate the bread and butter risks that we might find? And are there any unique risks that we haven't previously identified that is something that all of us, as team members and team leaders, can always be asking when we're faced with new information on scene? So, thank you, Jeff, for that.” Captain Bob then read the next question.


Polling Question:

 When considering an emergency response, it's essential to consider the needs of the internal-external survivors of an accident or incident. So, do you need to consider both? Yes. No. Maybe.

     “Okay, so voting is closed, and here we are.  Fourteen say “yes.” And again, a little bit of a gimmick, a little bit of a softball question. But the crucial thing to realize. And really. No matter what safety theorist you like to subscribe to and whatever kind of paradigms you like to operate under, the thing that is important to note is in any accident or incident; there is now a unique universe. If you will, that is created. There will forever be a bond between the survivors and our internal customers–within the team that's operating and the customer care team, even if they're somewhat distal to the issue that happened.

We all feel a connection.

    Primarily if we're operating and working for a good organization that tries to build that sense of a spirit de corps and family, we see this through the lens of a family when it happens. It touches everyone to some degree or another. In our ER response, it is essential to realize that, again, it is not to minimize, obviously, our external customers, survivors, and family members. That's our key focus. But along the way, we cannot neglect those folks in the fight trying to help, doing those things that are emotionally draining, engaging with folks, all of those things.

     And then in the quiet moments after, when it starts to set in, when you're over that initial adrenaline in all of us who train for these kinds of events. When the balloon goes up, and it's time to go do your mission, go execute on this; the energy level is high. We want to engage. We want to use those tools. We want to try to help folks. There will come a time when you're coming down from when adrenaline is carrying you. And it's in those moments, especially where counselors’ support for each other is so important.

    I know I'm probably singing to the choir for most of it. But as you represent and build those plans, it's so important that senior leadership, especially those folks who are accountable and have the resources, understand what that might mean. And you're thinking about it in advance.”

Closing of Part One—the second half of Captain Bob’s presentation will be reviewed in the August 17th article.

From the Foundation

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