Understanding Safety / SMS More


Many accidents have been caused by the inability of the organisation to adapt to a rapidly changing environment. Competitions, complexity, decision-makers and other factors cause the drift into an accident without necessarily a system break down or a component failure. The same complexity of systems that guard an organisation from failures can be the same responsible reasons for the failure itself.

Reliability which is often mistaken for safety, is an engineering expression of the component’s failure over a period of time, exposed to the same pre-defined criteria. But complex organisations do not operate within prescribed boundaries and the components inter-relationships are constantly varying, in an environment that cannot be totally anticipated and modelled. Many accidents were totally novice with no prior indication or sign of happening.

Resilience on the other hand, accepts that a complex organisation will inevitably adrift in a safety envelope. This adrift is many times the strength of the organisation rather than its weakness. Resilience is the capability of finding the means to keep the safety standards high, especially during times of acute pressure by competition, scarcity etc. This capability has three characteristics:

  • Recognise the boundaries of safe operations and steer back in a controlled and organised manner
  • Recover from loss of control
  • Detect and recognise the phase of margins being crossed

It is therefore the ability to calmly deal with the unexpected by recognising, adapting, and absorbing problems and disturbances without noticeable or consequential performance degradation or decrements, all in confidence. It aids in the ability of flexible, robust and proactive processes.

The main component of resilience is diversity. This offers a variety of responses to these disturbances. The greater options of responses arise from the plethora of perspectives. That means that the organisation does not become self-restricted by applying the same models of correction to constantly varying problems, but it explores different approaches to dealing with them.

The first and most vital step to achieve resilience in safety is to decentralise the decision-making authority. This will allow for a faster response by the people closer to the issue and mostly affected, in the most appropriate and efficient way. Decentralisation of decision-making requires a discretionary responsibility and authority at the lower managerial levels. This further encourages safety culture by validating the minority effort and encouraging dissent, as well as providing empowerment to front-line employees.

Furthermore, the data gathering system needs open question, as it assumes no prior knowledge of the issue. Since diversity can grow exponentially, as adding more options creates even more options, it is important to balance this promotion and the weight of each voice, as it can lock down decision-making into a path of constantly exploring new options without settling and applying one.

For the reason it should be avoided during time-critical situations. But if imbedded in the culture of the organisation and the daily work, it will yield valuable ideas and solutions to be ready during the these critical situations.

Checklist to assess resilience