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Talking about project safety - The importance of clear communications - 20th June and 20th September 2016

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In a presentation hosted by the SWWE Branch, Julian Harris demonstrated the importance of clarity in communications in preventing accidents.  Starting with the ‘Swiss Cheese’ model, it was explained that accidents are rarely the result of one failure; they tend to follow a chain of events.  Identifying potential hazards can allow suitable and sufficient safeguards to be implemented to reduce the possibility of an event leading to an accident.  Emergency arrangements can also be put in place to recover a situation, should an accident occur.  However Julian observed that the weakest link in any system was probably the human interface.

Julian led the attendees through each accident (the loss of HMS Victoria (June 1893)) and the fire at Hickson & Welch (September 1992), highlighting the key points in the chain of events where a failure to communicate clearly challenged the safe operation of the processes.  The unfortunate outcome of both events was significant loss of life and loss of a Royal Naval battleship and major damage to an industrial complex.
Julian highlighted the key lessons from each case study:

  • Don’t follow orders blindly, have a questioning attitude, think the plan through, establish clear communications, don’t assume that others think the same way as you, don’t put personnel /assets in jeopardy without adequate reason.
  • Establish safe systems of work, (lack of training and over worked staff), avoid loss of corporate memory through procedures and consulting others, understand the impact of unauthorised building modifications, establish clear evacuation roll call procedures. 

During questions put to him, Julian stressed that the events chosen for the presentation were of their time (one from the 1890s and the other the 1990s) and that modern legislation and safety culture had been developed following a number of accidents that included the capsizing of the Herald of Free Enterprise (March 1987), the Piper Alpha Platform fire (July 1988) and the loss of Nimrod XV230 (September 2006).

Safety was now much more seriously by all stakeholders, but there should be now room for complacency.  In addition, a number of tools had been devised to allow safety to be considered at all times.  Such tools included:

  • Safety Minute – Meeting attendees were encouraged to talk about a safety issue before starting their meeting to allow them to focus on safety.
  • Red Card – Staff have a red card which they can use if they believed their safety concerns were not being adequately addressed.

Julian was thanked for his interesting and thought provoking presentation and for addressing the range of questions put to him.

A copy of his presentation can be viewed below or on the APM Resources page.




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