The Risk Management Tool Box Blog

How to Maximise the Benefit of Senior Management Visits

Graham Marshall - Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The visible presence of members of Senior Management on the “shop floor” is now routinely accepted as a defining characteristic found in organizations with a more mature safety culture.

In fact, the concept of “time-in-field” has become such an established aspect of performance arrangements that Senior Managers are now measured against it and visits are now frequently a HSE key performance indicator. 

The number of site visits completed by Managers has become a de facto HSE “leading indicator” for safety culture in many organizations.  Organizations taking this approach include BHP Billiton, Shell, Rio-Tinto, BP, Woodside Energy, Santos, Chevron and a host of others in high-reliability industries.

The assumption that management visibility is a good measure of safety culture maturity, however, is not wholly unproblematic.

For example, on the 20th April 2010, the day of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, two Senior Managers from BP and two from Transocean were visiting the rig as part of a scheduled management visibility tour.  The four Managers were either experienced drilling engineers or had previously been rig managers. 

On the day of the disaster, the four Senior Managers spent more than seven hours on the rig and during that period they spent time on a range of safety initiatives.

In spite of their presence, however, sub-sea well control was lost leading to a high-pressure release and a series of catastrophic explosions.  Eleven workers lost their lives as the disaster unfolded.

Given the generally positive assumptions surrounding time-in-field safety initiatives, this week’s blog takes a reality check and questions these assumptions. 

The enclosed slideshow (click here) provides more detail about the Management visit to Deepwater Horizon and addresses the key lessons that HSE Leaders can learn when initiating their own time-in-field visits. 

In summary, the slideshow highlights:

  • Senior Management visits often spend far too much time on lower-risk occupational safety issues;

  • As such, Senior Managers are not addressing the real HSE risk facing high-reliability organizations;

  • In response, we argue that Senior Managers need to spend far more time addressing higher-risk Process Safety Management (PSM) issues when visiting operational facilities.

  • Information about Major Accident Hazards and the events associated with them are readily available (usually in the Project Safety Case) and should be reviewed by Senior Managers prior to visits.

  • Process hazards and catastrophic-consequence incidents should always be the top priority focus area of Senior Managers making visits to high-reliability facilities.

  • Senior Managers making site-visits should always check and verify that the process hazards are being managed in appropriate ways.  This could involve reviewing a procedure (in real time) or undertaking a formal HSE Observation during a walk-round.

Deepwater Horizon was a disaster because eleven men lost their lives.  It will be still more tragic if lessons are not learned that make workers safer in the future.

To review a copy of the presentation, please click here.

George Crossly commented on 15-Aug-2011 11:05 AM
Dear Dr Marshall, this is an awsome website. I look forward to reading the posts in the risk tool box blog everyday. Your ideas about HSE are very fresh and this is a great free resource. Thank you very much for sharing this stuff. it must take you ages
to bring it all together. I can't beleive it is free! Thanks again.
Anonymous commented on 27-Feb-2012 09:58 PM
To the authors of this blog - good job - thanks for the information.

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