Scoping Safety Domains

22 May 2024
12:00 PM – 1:00 PM AEDT

Benjamin Luther
Senior Test and Evaluation Engineer, Nova Systems

All around the world, intra-organisational battles rage for political influence and resources. This is not necessarily a bad thing – it can be part of continuous renewal and optimisation within organisations. Included in this are deliberate management decisions to cut superseded activity and duplication. But two particularly tribal areas of organisations lay claim to what appears superficially, to be the same function. These are the Industrial Safety, and, System Safety communities, both laying claim to the term safety. As systems evolve to be clear and complicated, these two tribes go to war for organisational resources. While Industrial Safety carries the weight of the law, System Safety is regulated. All the while, managers want to rationalise them since, “aren’t they duplicating safety?” With safety being the special case of risk management when a consequence includes the potential for harm to human health, researching approaches to safety management has been instructive in the wider field of risk management.

Underlying the problem is the single English word safety. As part of a research project toward a HDR at University of Adelaide Business School, the team has been researching the conduct of risk management to support decision making in organisations employing complex systems. The research observed the practices of the experimental flight test community to find that they were employing parallel approaches, in duplicate. The test crews were aware of the differences and used different tools to manage risk in the different system intricacy domains. A Cyenfin lens is useful to distinguish the different system domains, to see that the two tribes in the original organisation are doing different things. Industrial Safety is most effective in Clear systems with short time durations to preclude third parties getting involved. “My hammer, my thumb, my feedback loop.” System Safety is most effective in Complicated systems when extended time durations admit third parties, like passengers on commercial air transport. A high-vis jacket isn’t going to help in the cockpit, but a reliable engine will. For both these domains, statistical approaches work because adverse incidents occur frequently enough to gather meaningful data.

The interesting part of the research has been the extension to systems in the contemporarily defined, Complex domain. These are systems that feature emergence and a dynamic system configuration. With the evolution of systems to be complex, the wider plane becomes apparent and statistical approaches are no longer appropriate with only a single data point. This is the realm of experimental flight test, where the research was conducted. But it is also the realm of AI and innovation. With safety being the special case of risk with a consequence that is adverse to human health, this research is for Risk Managers (and Safety Managers) of systems that span the Clear, Complicated and Complex domains. It provides a unifying framework, enabling efficient scoping of existing tools to where they are effective. It avoids holes in risk management when a domain would be falsely rationalised away in pursuit of management efficiency. Ideally, it will calm the tribes when it illustrates their complementary nature and aid managers by illustrating the limits of each.

Ben was an RAAF maritime mission commander before being posted to flight test where he completed assignments on the F/A-18, P-3 Orion, and USAF RC-135, among others. As the customer’s FTE inside Airbus for the A330 AAR tanker development program, he was involved in the extensive modification of that aircraft, including the flight controls and 3D remote vision system for the boom. For Wedgetail, he was part of the team that achieved the first AAR refueling of the Boeing 737. Returning to ARDU, he served as the Flight Test Safety Officer before being recruited to Gulfstream in the wake of the G650 flight test accident. Ben was responsible for creating a Safety Management System within an experimental flight test context. He later led flight test teams in FAA Part 25 certification of the G500, G600 and G700. As the Secretary for SFTE International, Ben was an invited speaker to Boeing, Joby, Lincoln Labs, and Mitsubishi Aircraft. He is now the VP at the Flight Test Society of Australia. Ben works for Nova Systems, delivering test services toward assurance of complex socio-technical systems. He leads the Emerging Markets group in the Aerospace domain. Ben is a Distinguished Graduate of the National Test Pilot School, has Masters degrees in Flight Test and Aviation Safety, and as an American Australian Association scholar, completed an AMP at MIT Sloan. He is a PhD candidate at the University of Adelaide Business School.


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