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EUROCONTROL: Safety – Focus on what goes right

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A white paper, published by EUROCONTROL’s Network Manager and entitled “From Safety I to Safety II”, explains the key differences between, and the implications of, two different ways of thinking about safety.

An argument is made for a shift in safety management; to move from shifting the focus on the ‘few things that go wrong’ (Safety-I) to concentrating on the positive ‘things that go right’ (Safety-II) in daily operations.

The Paper, initially presented in Dublin in September 2013 at EUROCONTROL’s NM Human Performance Workshop, was also introduced at the IFATCA ERM2013 in Sarajevo last week. The shift in this novel way of thinking is attracting a good deal of interest in the controller community.

In light of increasing demands and system complexity, we must adapt our approach to safety. While many adverse events may still be treated by a Safety-I-based approach without serious consequences, there is a growing number of cases where this approach does not work, leaving us unaware of how everyday actions achieve safety.

Most of Safety-I’s existing methods and techniques can still be used, although possibly with a different emphasis. But the transition toward a Safety-II view includes some new practices:-

•to look for what goes right;

•to focus on frequent events;

•to remain sensitive to the possibility of failure;

•to be thorough as well as efficient;

•to consider investing in safety as an investment in productivity.

The White Paper helps explain the key differences between, and the implications of, the two different ways of thinking about safety.

Most people think of safety as the absence of accidents and incidents (or as an acceptable level of risk). In this Safety-I perspective, safety is defined as a state where as few things as possible go wrong.

The challenge for safety improvement is to understand these adjustments, beginning with understanding how performance usually goes right. Despite the obvious importance of things going right, safety management has so far paid relatively little attention to this.

Safety management should move from minimising the ‘few things that go wrong’ to maximising ‘the things that go right’. Safety-II relates to the system’s ability to succeed under varying conditions and differences in performance.

The way forward lies in moving towards Safety-II, while combining the two ways of thinking.

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