April 30, 2008 | Mark Paradies

Difference in Europe and US When Approaching Pre-Job Assessments & Root Cause Analysis

Lessons from recent travels . . . Differences between Europe and the US.

Regulators in Europe are convinced that pre-job hazard assessments (safety cases in the UK) are the key to improved safety. Workers wouldn’t be at risk and there would be no accidents if people would just review the job, spot all the hazards, implement effective techniques to remove or ameliorate the hazard, and then conduct the work.

The US regulatory view seems to be to regulate the highest hazard industries with rules to make people safe in the highest hazard jobs. Keeping people safe is the responsibility of the employer. If the employer fails, they are fined to encourage them to do better in the future (and as a warning to other employers). Some companies use pre-job hazard assessments, but a safety case isn’t required across every industry and job.

In the UK, many companies employ consultants to write the safety case. These people are trained and are an external set of eyes. Many (but not all) are experienced in the industries and jobs they are reviewing. They generally don’t use advanced root cause analysis as part of their assessment. They are not part of the workforce and it seems to me that they are viewed as outsiders. Their work isn’t appreciated much by the workers (who often see the restrictions they generate as unnecessary and a waste of time).

In Europe, when an accident happens, it is viewed as:

1) A failure of the pre-job hazard assessment/safety case process,

2) A failure of the hazard removal/amelioration techniques, or

3) A violation of the rules ordered by the pre-job hazard assessment/safety case.

Many in Europe don’t see root cause analysis as a particularly complex task. Their view is that all they need to do is discover which of the the three problems above is to blame, and then do a better job of hazard assessment/safety case, hazard removal/amelioration, and/or enforcing the rules next time . . . then the problems will go away.

In the US, since companies are blamed if something goes wrong and pre-job hazard assessment/safety case is not seen as a universal fix, companies are much more open to process improvement as a solution to problems and accidents. Because process improvement has a wide range of options to improve human and equipment performance, root cause analysis is seen as a more difficult and valuable process. US companies are more open to investing in advanced root cause analysis tools that can be applied across the enterprise to improve not only industrial, process, and public safety, but equipment reliability, product and service quality, process reliability, and environmental stewardship.

How could both cultures improve?

I know you won’t find it surprising that “Mr. TapRooT®” sees the application of advanced root cause analysis both BEFORE and AFTER work as a necessary part of effective improvement.

I think there is value in proactive pre-job assessments; they would be even more effective if advanced root cause analysis (TapRooT®) was applied proactively as part of the pre-job assessment/safety case by the employees (workers and supervisors) who would be trained to conduct the hazard assessment, develop the hazard reduction strategies, and even write the safety case (or at least help the consultant write it). This would create more effective pre-job assessment and better compliance with the resulting hazard mitigation rules and strategies and become a great way to improve safety both in the US and Europe.

Second, employers need to see accidents as more than failures of hazard assessment/safety case. They need to use advanced root cause analysis (TapRooT®) to understand the true causes of the accident and take effective steps to reduce the hazard by improving the process. This failure analysis technique – applying TapRooT®’s advanced root cause analysis tools – can then be applied across the enterprise to improve processes, safety, productivity, environmental stewardship, and profitability.

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