Clarky's Comment - September 2010

This month's Wood Matters has a focus on safety. I thought I'd comment on a related matter that can help contribute not only to safety, but also to better commercial and environmental outcomes – the significance of clear work processes and procedures, and the importance of sticking to them. In effect the "Way we work around here" sort of mentality rather than the "I'm a skilled individual and good at dealing with issues and problems" approach.

My starting point was a perception from media reports that there is a much higher frequency of accidents in smaller, mostly privately owned, aircraft than in the large and medium commercial aircraft, and thinking about why that should be? I doubt that the smaller aircraft are any less capable of flight. To back up my impression I requested data from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The CAA kindly pointed me to data published on its web site that starkly illustrates the gulf in accident frequency between these two classes of aircraft. Note the different left hand scales in the graphs below.

Aircraft Accidents

If you have ever been in the cockpit of a medium or large commercial aircraft you will have noticed the pilots going through certain checks and routines prior to take-off. I suspect the same sort of disciplined approach applies in the engineering workshops where these aircraft are serviced. Now these pilots and engineers are all highly intelligent and capable people, yet they still follow the minutia involved in procedures that they have already done a thousand times before, and in some cases several times that day on the same aircraft.

I speculated that the pilots and maintenance staff dealing with the smaller aircraft may not be as religiously wedded to following these procedures. The CAA made the point that the standards applied to the operation and maintenance of the larger commercial aircraft are higher than those that apply to smaller aircraft. So we have two potential factors (amongst others) explaining the difference in accident frequency i.e.

  1. The standards and procedures themselves; and
  2. Compliance in full with those standards and procedures.

In forestry we still suffer a bit from a strong sense of individual capability and problem solving. Structures, rules and procedures don't suit all of us when we are focussed on just getting the right result. But how many errors and how much anguish could be avoided with a little more time spent on preparation, planning, documenting and following a set of "best practice" procedures?

PF Olsen is committed to continuous improvement of our systems and procedures and to making them user-friendly for staff and contractors to follow.

We expect 100% compliance with these systems and procedures.

Staff and contractors are encouraged to continuously question the documented procedures - in particular if we are adding cost or time input for no benefit to anyone.

But staff are not allowed to simply make their own value judgement as to the need to follow a procedure, and ignore that procedure if it does not suit them to follow it.

Once procedures are agreed and documented that becomes the way we work. As expressed by one major energy company in Australia to its staff - "You may not like our systems. You are free to leave."

Compliance with good systems and procedures will increasingly become a driver of improved safety and environmental outcomes and commercial risk management as the expectations of our clients and of the communities in which we operate increases.