Hazard Avoidance: Lessons-Learned from Horses and Parades

In last week’s blog post I described how I retired (or should I say “transitioned”) from Active Duty life in the Marine Corps, where I lived mostly in urban areas, and moved to the country. I have grown to enjoy the quiet country life and particularly the charming way people celebrate life in small towns. Last weekend I attended a parade for our local peach festival. This is a big deal; peaches are a major crop where I live and the town is well known for its ability to grow some amazing peaches and create some of the most delicious foods and beverages from this fruit.

The annual Peach Festival has a parade every year, and this was the first year I attended. I have a feeling that the parade planners have a pretty good idea how to mitigate risks. By reading the MIL-STD 882E definition of system safety, we realize that system safety is  “the application of engineering and management principles, criteria, and techniques to achieve acceptable risk within the constraints of operational effectiveness and suitability, time, and cost throughout all phases of the system life-cycle” (DoD Standard Practice, System Safety, 8). Well, in layperson’s terms, I think this means that we reduce risk as much as feasible and to a point where we are willing to accept the remaining risk from the beginning to the end of the system’s existence.

Until this year’s Peach Festival I had never thought of a parade as a system, but I should have. After all, it has inputs (detailed planning), transformational processes (people doing cool stuff, like marching and playing instruments), and outputs (lots of smiles on people’s faces and lots of candy). It is also an open system because it interacts with the environment (streets, spectators, and law enforcement).  As the parade neared its end there were a few horses towards the back of the parade formation, which seemed to be placed tactically behind all of the people who had marched ahead. As the riders paused for a moment these horses decided to relieve themselves in the road, creating a stinky hazard for any people marching in the parade. But, since the large piles were at the end of the parade, the risk of the marchers stepping in the horse poo had been eliminated.

Did the parade designers know something ahead of time?  Were they prepared for the unexpected? Or had they just simply planned enough parades to know better? Either way, what we can take away from this story is that risks lurk in different areas and in different forms and by actively managing safety leaders can find ways to mitigate risks and protect employees.

In your organizations do you plan for failure and do you try to take the steps in the system safety process to ensure risks to employees are eliminated or reduced to a level As Low As Reasonably Practicable (ALARP)? If you cannot eliminate risks do you consider a defense-in-depth approach? Or, like the parade example, do you move the people away from the point of exposure when feasible? While system safety engineering is a complex and serious endeavor, which requires a great deal of rigor, sometimes the risk mitigation principles themselves are not that complicated. What can each of us do in our organizations to help protect employees and keep our systems and organizations free from unacceptable levels of risk?

Thanks for reading, and have a great and safe week.