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June 5, 2017

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“True safety comes from the people.” – David Ramsay of Kelvin TOP-SET

David Ramsay started Kelvin TOP-SET in 1986 and went on to devise the
Kelvin TOP-SET Incident Investigation Methodology, including the outline design for the TOP-SET software products. He was also, for a short period, a visiting tutor at the University of Glasgow in what is now the Adam Smith Business School. He played a major part in the investigation of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

How did you get your start in health and safety?

It’s quite interesting; I’m old enough to go back quite a long way. I remember the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act in 1974 and I was involved with implementing that in one or two companies, so I go back a very long way indeed.

You must have seen a lot of change since then.

Yes, there’s been a huge change. In fact, the most interesting one was the person who was my driver and handyman until recently. He had worked in a power station before the 1974 act and nine people were killed in his construction crew. After the 1974 act, he worked in an oil rig construction site just across the water, maybe about a mile or two away, and no one was killed. The difference was very, very dramatic.

What motivated you into founding Kelvin TOP-SET?

At the time we were doing some work for Shell and they wanted us to do incident investigation training and how people would form an investigation team and that’s what caused me to form    TOP-SET. That goes back a long way and I have to say thank you to Shell and the people that worked with Shell.

Your talk is focussing on prevention. In your opinion, what is something simple that companies can do to improve their incident prevention?

I think there’s no doubt at all that looking at incident investigation and root-cause analysis gives you the information that helps you make all sorts of changes and improvements both in health and safety and business performance, indeed I published a little blog recently that said just that. The thing is, it’s really about good management and if you have good management then it is possible to prevent incidents. I do believe that it’s possible to have zero incidents and zero injuries if you concentrate on what you’re doing.

What’s the best way to collect the information you mentioned? Should it be digital or analogue?

I think it should be a mixture of both. I don’t really like the idea of digital and analogue. I think it should be people going out and looking at things. Clearly you have a support mechanism in terms of technology, but there’s no substitute for people getting involved, seeing where risks may be, managing and discussing those risks and talking to people. Nothing can be prevented without that sort of involvement. Sure, in all sorts of areas you have all sorts of technology that can help you, but you still have to have people involved. Technology is just there to support the people.

What’s the difference between root cause analysis and incident investigation?

Well, one is part of the other in a sense. Incident investigation is just finding out all the facts and information. Once you have that information you go ahead and analyse that. We start with an incident statement; what actually happened. The boat sunk, why did it sink, did it hit an iceberg etc. You’re taking those findings and analysing them in detail to come down to the basic causes in the first place. When you know those, then changes can be implemented to prevent incidents occurring.

What can root cause analysis tell us about incident prevention?

Like any form of analysis, we’re getting down to the basic facts. I’m sitting outside a hospital at the moment, and really what the doctors in there will often be treating are the symptoms. Hopefully, they won’t just be treating the symptoms, but the root causes of those symptoms that caused the problems in the first place. It’s easy to treat symptoms but it’s just not enough, you’ve got to get down to what was the starting point.

What are the big issues facing the health and safety industry today?

I think it is one that has always been there and isn’t always taken seriously enough. When there are business pressures, sometimes a degree of apathy can come into safety. When we’re having a tough time of it, particularly in the oil industry, people are being made redundant and money is being saved, safety can take a back bench which it absolutely should not do.

How important is training in regards to health and safety?

I think training and education give people a commitment to keeping up standards. I’m very keen on everyone walking forward and saying let’s take time out for safety. Often incidents occur because good people are trying to do a job and moving on to the next step but accidentally bypassing a safety step. It’s getting that mindset inside you. If I can give you an analogy: “it’s not about safety, it’s about commitment.” I used to work in a big privately owned food company and everyone wore white coveralls and hats and such. One day the owner, a multi-millionaire who came to work in a Rolls Royce, came down and one of the ladies on the line said to him “Mr. Wilson, could you please turn around and go back and don’t come back until you’re wearing your coveralls.” If you see someone doing something that is unsafe I believe you’re morally bound to tell them.

As an expert, what trends do you expect to see in the coming year?

One thing I heard at a listen and learn event at Crossrail was very interesting. I was impressed by the unified approach they were taking to health and safety. Everything was connected; they weren’t just looking at one bit. They were even contributing to TFL with truck safety. They were taking in everything and working out what that has to do with building a tunnel. Everything being unified is a big trend.

Are there any recent health and safety innovations that you are particularly excited about?

We mentioned the digital and analogue topic earlier and we’re seeing technology devices coming in and helping people doing their job more safely. You get a lot of feedback with devices and they can tell you how other machines are operating and what problems there may be. Despite this I still think it needs to come back to people at the end of the day.

Do you have any advice can you give to young H&S officers just starting their career?

I think there’s a real career there now where there wasn’t before. I’ve talked to senior managers that have health and safety roles where they’re not just pen-pushers filling in forms. They’re making policies, effecting change and taking a wide look of the profession.

Is there anything we haven’t covered that you would like to mention?

I just want to emphasise that commitment to people. It’s very important to acknowledge that all incidents come back to people. This doesn’t mean that those people have done anything wrong; there could be any number of reasons for something to go wrong. True safety comes from the people.

See David Ramsay speak at SHE2017. Register for free here.

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