Risk Analysis: The Zen of Safety and Quality

If it isn't safe it isn't good. If it isn't good it isn't safe. Thinking about safety and quality as fundamental ontological components of each other can help create a framework through which we can evaluate project decisions. This methodology applies equally to comparing bid proposals, evaluating how to divide a maintenance budget, and determining where to spend capital funds on equipment upgrades.

All organizations make an attempt to include safety as part of their culture to a greater or lesser degree and I have never met a manager that would knowingly put their employees in harms way. The problems managers are forced to resolve are the competing objectives within an organization. Different groups have different goals and often short term cost savings are prioritized over other criteria.

When we use Total Cost modelling techniques and treat safety as a cost driver, the real cost of poor quality, low cost solutions can be demonstrated. If something is not well built, misapplied, or not fit for purpose it has an increased safety risk. As a best case this risk manifests as lost productivity due to malfunctions. At its worst this risk results in injury or loss of life. Think of a shoddily made knife; it dulls easily and a dull knife is far more dangerous to me than a sharp one. If I cut myself while working I could miss a few hours of work at the hospital or worse yet I could lose the ability to work altogether.

There is a whole toolbox of risk analysis techniques available to those with the time and effort to research. The tools picked really aren't important, what matters is the process. Get risks down on paper for everyone to see. Start creating a culture of risk analysis. If little hard data is available, evaluate risks using qualitative methods with costs of downtime factored against likelihood of a failure. If this framework is used to compare multiple project decisions the precise accuracy of the risk model is less critical unless there are very large cost differences between the options evaluated.

The future risks created by concessions made during cost analysis need to be factored in as cost drivers. Safety is at the essence of quality and quality is at the essence of safety. A safe system does not guarantee quality; but unless something is safe, it is poor quality. If something is of poor quality it is fundamentally unsafe.


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