Author: Sjoerd Nanninga

In this article managing director Sjoerd Nanninga writes about the X-factor in safety. This article was originally posted on LinkedIn. 

The X-factor in safety

X is where everything starts

An X always draws attention.

When my kids and I are playing pirates, we have a map with an X on it.
X is where everything happens, and you need to go there to get the treasure. It is the X where the action is.

My search for this magical X-factor that makes productions safer has brought me few insights that I strive to share.

Go and see yourself

In the lean manufacturing theory, there is this concept of Genchi Genbutsu, which means ‘go and see for yourself’.

In the lean practice, this means there are two major, significant implications:

    1. First, you need to make your decisions based on observations and data. Not on hunches, beliefs, feelings, or personal preferences. Go to X and see.
    2. Secondly, decisions about critical processes – including safety processes – should be made by the people involved. The people who are at X.

This way, the people with knowledge about what is going on have the power to decide.

Suppose you want to understand what’s going at a site. Take the time to visit the control rooms at night a couple of times. Get the guys a coffee, let them make fun of you, shut up and listen.


Here is my field story about being at the X

I once had a crash course in Genchi Genbutsu. I was flying to an offshore production platform, and I was accompanying a manager that came on shift.

He was a silent man in the beginning. Let’s say he needed to warm up to me, maybe. But we started talking, and at the end of the helicopter flight he told me:

“if you want to learn something, stay within 2 meters for the next two hours after landing”.

We spent the first half-hour together with the crew that was leaving.

They had intense conversations because they were trying to bring over two weeks of data, facts, and information (maybe even three weeks of data in some cases) to the arriving crew.

So, there’s a lot to learn and know about what happened over the last two weeks: potential risks, what is going on everywhere, etc. During this briefing, the helicopter was waiting on the deck, so there was a lot of time pressure.

Right after the ‘leaving crew’ left, the manager went outside to check all the decks. The first thing he checked was a tiny leak, which he noticed in the last hour of his previous shift. The leak was still there. Just a couple of drops were going into the sea.

But one drop pollutes 1000 liters of water. So, continuing that has a huge effect. The loop was not closed, so this was a small mistake. But this small mistake can become a bigger problem when not fixed.


Lessons learned at the X

The lesson was learned. I realized how challenging it is to control such a complicated combination of equipment and to execute actions.

I learned a lot that day and also in the years that followed stands on sides around the world. Sitting in control rooms and going with everybody to see what is going on gave me many insights.

Small mistakes and inefficiencies happen every day.

With my own eyes, I saw how these mistakes and inefficiencies, which are often SMALL, grow fast as a snowball when you sum them up.

So, how could you prevent those?


X is where you should be

When people at the work spot (at the X, remember?) make decisions, they influence processes directly. Thus they prevent unwanted things from happening.

If you allow and empower them to take control of safety processes, that will create real magic.


However, the story about X is not over.

The X also is about connections, tightening knots, and making solid nets of expertise.

Let’s talk about this next time.


To read the second part, click on this link.

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