High reliability management in process industries
It has been almost four years since the Safety and Environmental Management Systems (SEMS) regulations were promulgated and on November 15, 2014, it will be one year since the end of the first SEMS Audit Cycle. According to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) 86 percentage of the regulated operators successfully demonstrated that they met required SEMS program requirements. Moreover, in August 2014 only three operators were still out of compliance.
One of the intents of SEMS is to focus attention and resources on human behavior and its impact on processes as well as organizational structural changes and leadership to develop a Culture of Safety (COS) with a focus on sustained improvements. From a 2013 study regarding SEMS implementation in the industry, it is clear that organizations are integrating the SEMS requirements into their Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) or Operations Management Systems (OMS). This is a logical step because the OMS is the field manual for the organization and its suppliers and partners.
Moreover, as part of this process, many in the industry have been looking at other critical industry sectors for good or perhaps even best practices. Sectors of interest include nuclear, military, medicine, power generation and distribution, and others. Those where very high levels of reliability are critical and failure is truly not an option as the ramifications of even a small failure can have far reaching consequences.
The recent Ebola virus case in Dallas, Texas is one example. Apparently, a small mistake during the patient admittance workflow process has triggered a multi-million dollar response whose outcome is still unfolding.
Normal Accident Theory (NAT) suggests that highly complex, interactive, and tightly coupled systems will inevitably have accidents. In other words, this is the normal course of events in a modern technologically driven world. However, one can argue that as in the Dallas Ebola case, accepting inevitability should not be standard operating procedure.
Physical (the universe for example) and human processes all have structure. Almost twenty years ago, the construct of Structural Dynamics was developed. Structural Dynamics is defined as “the morphology or patterns of motion towards process equilibrium of interpersonal systems.” The physical Laws of Thermodynamics describe the very nature of energy and dictate how systems interact with each other. Structural Dynamics is the counterpart for human systems.
Behavioral Economics is often defined as a study of market behavior. That definition is extended through the Structural Dynamics model to encompass organizational governance models that are manifest in Operations Management Systems. Briefly, governance enables owners to oversee the performance of professional management and has its roots in Agency Theory. In other words, governance is all about behavioral economics.
Enter High Reliability Management
Reliability is the ability to maintain performance during complexity, uncertainty, and the unexpected. Reliability is:
• Managing Complexity
• Managing Errors
• Managing the Unexpected