One of the challenges facing companies, particularly those dealing with major hazards, is deciding whether they have enough people to operate safely? This is a difficult question to answer and is rarely purely about the number of people.  Put simply, having a small number of competent people who can work well together is usually better than having more, less competent people.

The staffing challenge

Modern control roomNew technology allows a lot of activities that were performed manually in be automated. This appears to suggest that less people are required to achieve the same rate work than would have been the case in the past.  Whilst this is undoubtedly true, one of the main problems is that the workload created during normal activities gives little indication of the workload created by unplanned and unwanted events and emergencies.  The challenge for companies is to maintain a sufficient workforce to cover those high demand events whilst being able to keep them gainfully employed for most of the time when the demands are much less.

Modern organisations

Partly driven by technology, but also by changes in society and management theory, there have been significant changes in the way companies are organised.  This has provided another opportunity to consider reducing staffing numbers.

Traditional hierarchical team structure More modern, self-managed team structure

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Traditional teams tended to have more levels of hierarchy and there are large degree of demarcation. Modern teams often have flatter structures, requiring people to more work flexibly and be more 'self-managed.'

Modern organisations do provide an opportunity to reduce head count by delayering the  organisation.  Unfortunately companies often assume that this can be achieved easily, without risk.  Even if the new organisation has the ability to work safely introducing such a change can create significant risk.

 

 

Supervision

In many ways modern organisations have downplayed the importance of supervision.  This may be appropriate in low hazard industries but where the hazards are more significant, Supervisors have always had an important role in making sure safe practices are maintained and providing leadership in emergencies.

There is no reason why companies cannot implement more flexible working and self-managed teams, but that does not mean supervision is not important.  In fact supervision does need to happen, but if someone is not allocated it as a specific role (whether they be called a Supervisor, Team Leader, Coach) it does make supervision more difficult and potentially less effective.

 

Diagram showing how methods of supervision cross a spectrum with traditional hierarchies at one extreme through to self-managed teams at the other.

 

The diagram above shows a 'continuum of Supervision.' It shows that there is no right or wrong way of organising teams and that there is a spectrum of methods with traditional hierarchies at one end and self-managed teams (SMT) at the other.  The reality is that most organisations fall somewhere in between.

Demonstrating staffing is adequate

Where there is a risk, it is not good enough to assume your staffing arrangements are adequate.  Even if you have enough people, do they have the right competencies, are they able to work together effectively and do they have enough support from others?

Communications in an emergency One way of demonstrating the adequacy of staffing arrangements is to consider how people would cope in a high demand situation.  This is not necessarily the worst case scenario but instead the more minor event that can escalate if not dealt with effectively.  Questions you need to ask include:

  • Who will be involved?
  • Who can assist?
  • How will they communicate?
  • Will they know what to do?
  • What is a the likelihood that the event will be dealt with effectively, in a timely manner?

This ttype of exercise invariably highlights weaknesses within the organisation.  However, it is much better to do it before the event rather than finding them when something has gone wrong.

AB Risk can help

There are techniques available that can assist you in evaluating staffing arrangements.  They provide structured methods that assist in addressing some rather intangible factors in order to develop risk based conclusions.

AB Risk has been involved in many projects with clients where staffing arrangements have been considered, often as the result of organisational change.  Clients find that having an objective third party involved in such assessment brings great benefits, especially when using structured methods described above.  They also appreciate that the recommendations made by AB Risk are practical, effective and  risk based.

References and links

CRR 348/2001 Assessing the safety of staffing arrangements for process operations in the chemical and allied industries

Safe staffing arrangements - User guide to CRR 348/2001 methodology - produced by the Energy Institute

Different types of supervision and the impact on safety in the chemical and allied industries

HSE on organisational change