Tell people that you will solve their problems, give them an ability to tell you about them, and you may open the flood gates. These ‘hazards’ or ‘non conformances’ can come from a wide range of sources: audits, complaints, actions from meetings, just doing the job or being observant when walking around. We can imagine a large number of reports flooding in, the system getting overloaded and grinding to a halt. We want to encourage reporting but this scenario is not going to make anyone happy and must be avoided at all costs.
How can we do this?
The key is to prioritise rather than responding in the order that actions were created.
Firstly, not all problems are equal. For health and safety, a large number of hazards will be relatively simple: for example, poor housekeeping leading to slips, trips and falls. In these cases the reporter should be empowered fix the issue themselves, perhaps with assistance. You still want to know about it, after all, it is these issues that probably cause the majority of your accidents. If you are running a competition, self-fixes should score particularly highly. Looking at trends here can point to systemic events.
We don’t want critical actions to be lost amongst less important ones. Use a risk assessment to prioritise. This could be done at either the reporting or reviewing stage, depending on the capabilities of the reporter.
You could ask the reporter “how concerned are you about this?” reply: very concerned, concerned, or I just wanted to let you know. This would give an ‘easy’ prioritisation. Alternatively, ask “how big is the risk?” reply: high, medium, low
If your reporters are familiar with risk assessment, you may choose to ask about severity and likelihood in a more formal process.
As always, balance the increase in information you get with making the reporting form more complicated and a longer to complete.
The report is reviewed at the next step. This includes deciding whether further investigation is needed to understand:
- root cause, using tools such as 5 whys.
- potential impact of a hazard. This will be used to prioritise the actions, making sure problems with the greatest overall impact on the company are given priority.
This 3 phase process will significantly reduce the number of critical events, allowing better visibility and focus on events which have the greatest overall impact on your company.
As a final thought, how do you know if a problem has been fixed?
This may be obvious or need more thought. One technique for deciding if a problem has been ‘fixed’ could be to repeat the risk assessment and see if it has been brought down to an acceptable level. If not, additional actions will be needed. Spot the continual improvement loop!