For the previous article, see:

https://www.taproot.com/archives/53085

The second of the “essential” elements for excellence described by Rickover is RESPONSIBILITY.

You probably think you know what this means. You probably think that this is something your company already emphasizes. But read on and you will discover that it may be a missing element of your process safety program, and one reason that your company is not achieving excellence.

In the Nuclear Navy, Admiral Rickover was totally responsible. He was in charge of the design, construction, operations, and maintenance of all the Navy’s nuclear reactors (prototypes, subs, and ships). This single point of responsibility was unique in the Navy and is unique in the civilian world.

And responsibility for safety was (and is) passed down the chain of command to each Commanding Officer, Engineer, Engineering Watch Officer, and Reactor Operator. If you see something unsafe, you are fully authorized and expected to act.

If a Reactor Operator saw some safety parameter go out of spec, s/he was fully authorized and expected to SCRAM (emergency shut down) the reactor. There was no asking permission or waiting for approval.

If a reactor accident (a meltdown) had occurred, Rickover would take full responsibility. And the rest of the chain of command would likewise take responsibility for their actions.

Do you remember the hearings in front of congress after the Deepwater Horizon accident? Each of the executives from BP, Transocean, and Halliburton pointed fingers at the other executives. None would take responsibility for the accident.

An Associated Press Story said:

Executives of the three companies, all scheduled to testify before the Senate
Energy and Natural Resources Committee, are trying to shift responsibility for the
environmental crisis to each other, according to prepared testimony
.”

The Washington Post had to say about the testimony:

“Three major oil industry executives agreed on one thing in a pair of
Senate hearings Tuesday: Someone else was to blame for the drilling rig accident
that triggered the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Here is some coverage of the testimony that talks about “divided responsibility” …

Watch what it takes to get Tony Hayward to say he was the ultimately in command of safety at BP.

Without Rickover’s unique concept of total accountability/responsibility, people can sidestep responsibility. Without full accountability/responsibility, decisions to:

  • cut budgets,
  • reduce staffing,
  • defer maintenance,
  • opt for cheaper designs,
  • or shortcut company requirements

are easy to make because no one person is responsible. As Philippe Paquet wrote:

When everyone is responsible, no one is responsible.”

Therefore, as Rickover points out, you must have one person at the top clearly responsible for process safety or no one is responsible and you will NOT be able to achieve excellence.

That’s it for this week’s discussion of excellence. Next week’s topic is perhaps the most important concept in excellence and process safety … “Facing the Facts.”

Read Part 5:  Normalization of Excellence – The Rickover Legacy – Facing the Facts