Crowd Sourced ORM

BY LT STEPHEN VANDAL HSM-51 Quarterly safety standdowns are rarely engaging events. Oftentimes, all hands gather in an auditorium or the hangar and a series of speakers lecture the group on the safety topics of the season such as wearing sunscreen in the summer, turkey fryer safety in the fall, […]


Quarterly safety standdowns are rarely engaging events. Oftentimes, all hands gather in an auditorium or the hangar and a series of speakers lecture the group on the safety topics of the season such as wearing sunscreen in the summer, turkey fryer safety in the fall, and driving in icy conditions in the winter. Many members in the audience slip into a near comatose state as they settle in for another day of dreaded death by PowerPoint. These cookie-cutter safety standdowns are easy to organize and meet minimum training requirements, but the amount they actually contribute to safety is debatable. No new ideas are generated and much of the information presented seems to go in one ear and right out the other. There has to be a more effective use of this time. The Warlords of HSM-51 may have a more productive way to use these safety standdowns: crowd sourced discussions. The rapid advances in communications technology in the past decade have made decisions and idea generation via the masses an effective course of action. By tapping the creativity, knowledge, and experience of a large, diverse group, more unique ideas and solutions can be generated and then evaluated by the masses. This results in the best ideas rising to the top, some of which would never have been developed by any other means.

For the most recent spring safety standdown, HSM-51 embraced the idea of a more engaging and productive use of time by experimenting with the concept of crowd sourced operational risk management (ORM). While several GMT topics were covered, they were completed before the audience managed to lose interest. The skipper then presented the agenda for the remainder of the safety standdown. After making a few jokes at the expense of the traditional safety standdown format of sitting through two dozen slides on how to properly care for a Christmas tree in order to prevent a house fire, the commanding officer (CO) brought up the squadron’s task for the day. He said, “Consider the most dangerous thing you do. What’s the next mishap? What can we do about it”? The skipper wanted three questions answered concerning the most dangerous task and operations encountered in an aviation squadron: Are there procedures in place? Are we trained to those procedures? Are the training and the procedures followed? The goal of this safety standdown was to get ahead of and prevent future problems by thinking about them beforehand and implementing controls now.

After the opening remarks, HSM-51 personnel broke up into 15 to 20 member sized groups and were assigned meeting locations throughout the squadron. Groups were created based on rank in order to encourage open participation by all group members and help combat any rank-induced intimidation that might be created in mixed group settings. Each group was given free reign to determine which topic they thought represented the potential next mishap and walk through the ORM processes on their own. Representatives from the safety department and the command triad visited the various groups in order to observe their processes and ensure everyone stayed on topic.

Within the groups, discussions stayed on task, walking through the five steps of the ORM process. The first task was simply to identify the mostly likely cause of the next mishap or the most dangerous thing we do in the squadron. The topics produced were quite varied with only a few groups managing to choose the same or a similar topic. Junior enlisted groups mainly focused on liberty related safety issues including driving in Japan, climbing Mount Fuji, and alcohol consumption. The more senior groups chose more operational topics such as aircraft straightening and traversing, pilot to plane captain interaction and signaling, and moving all of the squadron’s aircraft into the hangar at the end of the week.

Once a topic had been chosen, groups continued on with the deliberate ORM process. Group members called out hazards associated with the topic in an open brainstorming session. Once a substantial list had been formed and no more hazards could be identified, the list was discussed and analyzed for probability and severity in order to assign risk-assessment codes. After the hazards were appropriately assessed and prioritized, group members brainstormed different methods to manage the hazards and risks associated with their topics. Finally, the groups discussed various techniques to ensure chosen controls were properly implemented and effective. Throughout the small group period, discussions remained consistently on topic and leaders naturally emerged to ensure the ORM process was followed. Participation was also encouragingly high with almost everyone contributing at least a few ideas or experiences.

The Warlords reassembled in the hangar after about an hour and a half of group discussion. Each group was then given approximately five minutes to present their findings, walking everyone else through the ORM process they used and the results it produced. It was interesting to see how each group implemented the ORM process. Some of the more junior groups focused on identifying the obvious hazards and basic controls taught to all hands such as always having a buddy when drinking and following the 0-0-1-3 memory aid as a guideline under the Navy’s Right Spirit campaign. Other groups brought up unexpected problems or unique solutions. Even groups that ended up choosing the same topic, such as aircraft straightening and traversing, had such varying perspectives and ideas that the presentations were considerably different while highlighting the same critical risks identified by both groups.

When all the groups had finished presenting, the skipper discussed the results and put his perspective on the event. He highlighted some of the ideas generated by the event that might be implemented by the squadron in the future including additional combined pilot and plane captain training sessions on signals, acquisition and use of wireless ICS cranials by plane captains, and additional training on the use of polar plots for personnel involved in straightening and traversing evolutions. The skipper also emphasized how critical procedural compliance is in the face of rush and change. The constants of checklists, publications, and standard operating procedures are what keep us safe when executing high-risk operations in a dynamic operational environment. If the rules cannot be complied with or there are any questions, the evolution should be stopped and reassessed. He further emphasized that everyone from the most junior blue jacket to the most senior khaki should feel both empowered and obligated to stop any unsafe evolution they observe. No one should push evolutions in an unsafe manner at the risk of personnel and aircraft. In most cases, the benefit of a successful mission or an on-time launch does not outweigh a loss of life, limb, or equipment.

HSM-51’s new take on the quarterly safety standdown was a success. New ideas were generated to enable the squadron to continue to operate in a safer manner while performing some of the most dangerous evolutions; and squadron personnel were kept engaged instead of falling into post-Thanksgiving-like stupor while listening to tips on turkey fryer safety. In general, crowd sourcing ideas to increase unit safety seems like a much better use of the wealth of experience and brain power gathered in one place rather than another mindless slog through back-to-back PowerPoint presentations on random safety topics. Perhaps this style of safety standdown is not suitable for every quarter, but the positive results generated by the event seems to guarantee the Warlords will implement this strategy again in the not too distant future.