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Flexibility vs. Rigidity in Safety Management: A Case Study in Bowtie Analysis

In the realm of safety management, adherence to methodologies is often considered paramount. However, the question arises: can strict adherence sometimes hinder rather than help in achieving safety goals?

This dilemma is vividly illustrated by a recent bowtie analysis conducted for a client, where flexibility proved instrumental in reaching desired outcomes.

The bowtie analysis, centered on psychosocial risks, began with a structured approach involving all stakeholders. Initial steps included defining the scope, identifying causes and consequences, and proposing preventative controls. Yet, it was during the critical phase of assessing control effectiveness that a pivotal decision was made. With time constraints looming large—only a two-day window available—strict adherence to detailed control assessments risked derailing the entire process.

Recognising the urgency of delivering actionable results, the safety professional leading the analysis opted for a pragmatic approach. They streamlined the control effectiveness assessment, focusing on consensus-driven prioritisation rather than exhaustive evaluation. This departure from the purist methodology allowed the team to maintain momentum and secure buy-in from all participants within the limited timeframe.

Moreover, faced with the challenge of finalising critical controls amidst dwindling meeting hours, another deviation from standard procedure was necessary. Instead of the usual methodical review, a rapid consensus-building exercise was employed. This decision, though divergent from traditional practice, proved pivotal in achieving clarity and commitment towards actionable outcomes.

Ultimately, these adaptive strategies not only facilitated the completion of the bowtie analysis but also ensured a robust action plan was in place. By prioritizing outcomes over procedural rigidity, the team achieved a comprehensive understanding of new risks and devised effective mitigation measures.

Reflecting on this experience prompts a broader question within the safety community: does strict adherence to protocols always serve the ultimate goal of enhancing safety? The case study suggests that while adherence to best practices is crucial, there are moments when flexibility and pragmatism are equally indispensable. By aligning methodologies with real-world constraints and stakeholder dynamics, safety professionals can optimize outcomes and drive tangible improvements in risk management.

In conclusion, the success of the bowtie analysis serves as a compelling example of balancing purist principles with adaptive flexibility in safety management. It challenges professionals to reconsider the rigid application of methodologies in favor of approaches that prioritize tangible results and stakeholder engagement. As the field continues to evolve, embracing a nuanced perspective on methodology can lead to more agile and effective safety practices, ultimately benefiting organisations, participants, and the broader community alike.

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