Risk and Safety Maturity

Originally posted on June 17, 2013 @ 8:08 PM

Risk and Safety Maturity

Another guest post by Dr Robert Long – If you liked this article then you should read the whole series: CLICK HERE

There are many programs which advertise about ‘safety leadership’ and ‘safety culture’ but advocate little more than tightening up systems, vigilance in policing and raising penalties for non-compliance.  Whilst systems, policing and compliance are important, they are not highly complex and function on a binary trading dynamic which at times seem to be developed as if humans are not involved.  We see evidence of the supposed neutrality of primary controls in the ineffective flooding of humans with excess safety bureaucracy.  Over regulation and over bureaucratization drive humans to default ‘micro-rules’, intuitions and heuristics that tend to be simplistic and risky, but enable humans to cope.

Physical controls are the fundamental focus of safety and risk professionals.  Physical controls are what I term the ‘primary’ level of safety and risk response.  Whilst primary controls are the fundamental building block of hazard and risk management, they are not the only controls.  Compared to more complex responses primary controls are relatively quick and easy.

Risk and safety maturity should include the full spectrum of available controls.  This is illustrated in Figure 1 The Human Dymensions Risk and Safety Maturity Matrix ©The Human Dymensions Risk and Safety Maturity Matrix shows how controls increase in complexity and intensify over time.  As one ‘steps up’ in safety and risk maturity, one realizes that the fundamentals of primary controls are insufficient on their own to manage risk.

Secondary controls are more complex than primary controls because they understand the secondary layer of human response as critical to the effectiveness of primary controls.  For example: whilst it is good to have checklists and systems to manage risk, it is also good to know how ‘checklist thinking’ and ‘checklist fatigue’ affect humans.  The psychosocial dimension of risk response is complex because it involves knowledge of the many heuristics, biases and ‘effects’ which make up human counter-intuition.   Safety risk maturity and leadership begins with an understanding of human judgment and decision making.  Learning to influence controls associated with secondary hazards and risks involves a longitudinal view of risk management.

Tertiary controls are the most complex, intense and longitudinal in nature. This is because tertiary controls involve group interrelationships. Human socialpsychological and sociopolitical interactions are most evident in workplace discourse and the transmission of power.  Observing and listening to tertiary hazards and risks involves a sophisticated understanding of community and power awareness.  When one is attune to observing and hearing tertiary hazards and risks, then one is able to begin to influence and exercise tertiary controls.  This is where a mature sense of safety leadership is most demonstrated.

The Human Dymensions Risk and Safety Maturity Matrix comprises the journey in risk and safety maturity required to become what Prof. Weick calls the ‘high reliability organisation’.  The journey begins by ‘letting go’ of what many safety professionals prize too ‘tightly’. When one is more able to influence secondary and tertiary controls, the emphasis on primary controls is put in proper perspective.  As safety leaders ‘step up’ in risk and safety maturity then their influence cascades down the risk spectrum and the fixation on primary controls diminishes.

Figure 1.  The Human Dymensions Risk and Safety Maturity Matrix

Author’s Resource Box

Dr Robert Long

PhD., (UWS) BEd., (USA) BTh., (SCD) MEd., (Syd) MOH (La Trobe), Dip T., Dip Min., MACE, CFSIA.

Executive Director – Human Dymensions Pty Ltd

Rob has a creative career in teaching, education, community services, government and management.

Rob is engaged by organisations because of his expertise in culture, learning, risk and social psychology. He is a skilled presenter and designer of learning events, training and curriculum.

Web Link: www.humandymensions.com

Blog: http://web.me.com/robertlong2/HDblog/Blog/Blog.html

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