Too many times I have arrived at the moment of truth, and found that I did not adequately prepare for the task ahead of me. Some of these situations came in the form of taking exams, packing the wrong fishing lures, altogether forgetting my ammunition for hunting, or showing up at an airport only to learn that the trip was scheduled for the next day. I try to live by Thomas A. Edison’s idiom that “Unfortunately, there seems to be far more opportunity out there than ability…. We should remember that good fortune often happens when opportunity meets with preparation.” Since my time in the service, I have tried to enhance my good fortunes by being prepared.
Preparedness really defines who we are as individuals and as an organization. Within the EHS field, preparedness can be observed by conducting inspections and audits. Performing regular emergency drills, reviewing the results, and making the necessary changes can indicate how prepared a site or business is when it comes to dealing with potential catastrophes. It can also manifest itself when undertaking a project. It becomes obvious (sometimes painfully so) once the work starts and things either do, or do not, fall into place. By being prepared, it not only reduces stress levels, but in many cases, it can also improve the end goal.
So why are not we practicing to be more prepared within the EHS profession? Is it because we are too busy, meaning that we think that preparing for something that might not happen is not a priority? Can it be that some people just do not make preparedness part of the way they think about how the EHS function should be run? Another example, that I have often heard discussed, is that there is an infinite amount of risk and a finite amount of resources available, so being able to cover everything, properly, is virtually impossible. Moreover, I believe the expectation set by the leaders of the business have a huge influence on how prepared they want their organization to be.
I would like to drill down into how using a standardized approach can significantly improve preparedness, even though we might not look at it this way. In order to be prepared for any situation, one needs to know what can happen as well as what can cause something to happen. Knowing all aspects of the situation is very important to be able to properly evaluate all the variables that make up the associated risks. There are two tools, or templates, that I have worked with which have assisted me greatly when trying to evaluate risk. One is the Failure Mode and Effect Analysis (FMEA), and the other is a specific risk assessment which tended to be more EHS specific. I have worked on these tools both individually and in groups. After reviewing individual results, I have learned that in most cases, group participation results were better.
Depending upon the size of the issue being evaluated, there can be 15 – 20 lines (items) or there could be as many as thousands of lines of risks. Priority needs to be given to the risks, so that resources are given to the critical few versus the trivial many. In the case of an FMEA, severity, occurrence and detectability are multiplied and given a risk priority number (RPN). Once the risk priority numbers are forced ranked, whether high or low, the top 10% to 15% of the risks need to be addressed as soon as possible. Using the RPN as a Pareto, one will see that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.
After the assessment has been performed, leadership needs to be informed as to the current state of risk for the area evaluated. It has been my experience that most leaders only want to review the biggest items found. Through this discussion, schedules and resources will usually be brought up relative to significantly reducing, or eliminating, the top risks. Additionally, leadership might instruct the team to begin work on significant risks, or only the top one or two, because of funding or scheduling issues. The risks then need to be put into a corrective action system so that they receive the proper attention. Another important aspect of managing the risks is to have regularly scheduled meetings with leadership to discuss progress, and any types of barriers to closing the corrective actions.
Preparedness needs to be evaluated frequently, and in earnest. Change management plays a huge role in understanding risk once a solid baseline has been established. Depending on the size and complexity of an organization, risk assessments might need to be performed more regularly, and evaluated with the understanding of how integrating change could impact a risk score. Folks that might get involved could be the program manager, manufacturing engineering, facilities, building engineering and validation. These same people can be advocates for securing expense and capital money, and in some cases they might give up some of their own departmental budget to assist in risk reduction.
As one can see, critical thinking, having high expectations, standardized work, resource allocation and working with a cross functional team is imperative when achieving preparedness through risk management. When successfully completed, the business will most likely never know that it averted a potential disaster because of their ability to look forward and hit risk head on.
Contact me, Edward Ballo, at e3s Consulting for addressing your company’s risk management through preparedness. Call 501-749-0912 or contact me online.