SAFETY MANAGEMENT | The dilemma of the 2 Ps

This text is essentially an extract from pages 3-3 to 3-5 of the Safety Management Manual (SMM) of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Although the focus of the text is on aviation, I cannot help thinking that it is absolutely suitable for maritime organizations as well: this is why I am reproducing it here.

The perspective of the management of safety as an organizational process and of safety management as a core business function clearly places ultimate safety accountability and responsibility for such function at the highest level of aviation organizations (without denying the importance of individual safety responsibility for the delivery of services). Nowhere are such accountability and responsibility more evident than in decisions regarding allocation of resources.

The resources available to aviation organizations are finite. There is no aviation organization with infinite resources. Resources are essential to conduct the core business functions of an organization that directly and indirectly support delivery of services. Resource allocation therefore becomes one of the most important, if not the most important, of the organizational processes that senior management must account for.

Unless the perspective of safety management as a core business function is adhered to by the organization, there is the potential for a damaging competition in the allocation of resources to conduct the core business functions that directly and indirectly support delivery of services. Such competition may lead to a management dilemma that has been dubbed the “dilemma of the two Ps”.

Simply put, the “dilemma of the two Ps” can be characterized as the conflict that would develop at the senior management level of the organization because of the perception that resources must be allocated on an either/or basis to what are believed to be conflicting goals: production goals (delivery of services) or protection goals (safety).

Figure 3-1A depicts a balanced allocation of resources to production and protection goals that results from organizational decision-making processes based on safety management as a core business function (i.e. just another core business function). Because the management of safety is considered just another organizational process and safety management just another core business function, safety and efficiency are not in competition, but closely intertwined. This results in a balanced allocation of resources to ensure that the organization is protected while it produces.

In this case, the “dilemma of the two Ps” has been effectively dealt with. If fact, it can be argued that in this case the dilemma does not exist.

Balanced relationship between productivity and protection

Regrettably, the history of aviation shows that effective resolution of the dilemma has not been commonplace. What history shows is a tendency for organizations to drift into an unbalance in the allocation of resources because of the perception of competition between production and protection. In cases when such competition develops, protection is usually the loser, with organizations privileging production objectives (albeit introducing numerous caveats to the contrary). Inevitably, as shown in Figure 3-1B, such partial organizational decision making leads to a catastrophe. It is simply a matter [of] time.

Figure 3-1C shows an alternative to the partial allocation of resources discussed in the two previous paragraphs. In this case, the bias in the allocation of resources is towards the protection side of the balance, thus leading to bankruptcy. Although this alternative is hard to find in the annals of aviation history, it nevertheless alerts one to the importance of sensible organizational decision making regarding allocation of resources. In the final analysis, it is clear that the development of the “dilemma of the two Ps” is denied by an organizational perspective that focuses on safety management as a core business function, at the same level and with the same importance as other core business processes. In this way, safety management becomes part of the fabric of the organization, and an allocation of resources commensurate with the overall resources available to the organization is ensured.

The rationale for safety management as a core business function can be extended into one final argument that bears considerable relevance to the processes underlying hazard identification and safety risk management as the operational activities and functions involved in safety management (discussed in Chapters 4 and 5).

Since aviation organizations have as a primary objective the delivery of services, the timely and efficient delivery of the services may at times come in conflict with operational safety considerations. For example, because of the need to meet a schedule, an airliner needs to land at a particular airport at a particular time, regardless of weather conditions, traffic volume, airport limitations and similar constraints which are absolutely related to the delivery of the service. If the service delivery efficiency considerations (the need to meet a schedule) were removed, operational safety (adverse weather conditions, high traffic volume, airport limitations) would cease to be a factor. The operation would be conducted only when the constraints had disappeared. This, however, is impractical, because it would destroy the viability of the aviation industry. Aviation operations must therefore be conducted under conditions that are dictated not so much by operational safety considerations but rather by service delivery considerations.

The corollary is clear: aviation safety issues are neither inherent to, nor a natural condition of, aviation operations, but a by-product of the need for, and engagement in, activities related to production or delivery of services. This reinforces the need for safety management as a core business function that ensures an analysis of an organization’s resources and goals and allows for a balanced and realistic allocation of resources between protection and production goals, which supports the overall service delivery needs of the organization.

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