Quality vs. Safety

Abstract:This article shows the relationship and interdependency between quality management and safety management, citing examples and tools used in oil and gas asset design projects. Assets include plants; factories; oil and gas refineries; onshore, offshore, and subsea platforms; production lines and pipelines; and all associated equipment. The petroleum, petrochemical, and natural gas industries are risky by nature and can cause damage to the environment, human health, and safety. The assets exist in systems and subsystems that harness powerful energy that must be adequately contained. System failures can kill people, pollute the environment, and hurt the operator's reputation and finances. Quality and safety in design projects should be delivered at the highest level to build safe, reliable, operable, and maintainable assets. The article discusses a systematic process for safety critical elements (SCE) identification; bow tie models for understanding accident prevention barriers and recovery …

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My career began in 1971 with military Boot Camp. The career path that followed did not take me in the direction of petroleum product production but rather on a journey in an industry that is a major consumer of those products - - aviation. In 1986 I became a major airline quality auditor with steady progression in the aviation quality management career field ever since.

In 2012, serving in a Quality consultant capacity, I learned that one of the world's largest Aerospace manufacturers, while it had a Quality Policy, did not have a common definition of "Quality". My question to their top management team at the time was... "Without a common company definition of Quality, how can leadership expect adherence to the company Quality Policy." After all, wouldn’t all employees then, have their own definition of Quality? I also asked the same group how they made "Safety" happen. And lastly, I asked which came first, safety or quality? Their answers were divided with some Leaders saying safety came first and some saying quality came first. All did agree however that Safety was the company’s number one priority. [As an aside, a Poll of Safety and Quality professionals taken a few years ago showed the same nearly 50/50 split in opinion on which came first.]

To this day, my firm belief is that until and unless quality is defined in an organization, that making quality happen in the same organization will just be a dream - - not a core value. After an aviation career spanning nearly 50 years, it’s crystal clear to me that unless Quality is defined, it will not happen on its own.

In my professional judgment, to make Safety happen - - Quality must be defined, measured and assured - - first.

--Thomas C. Willis, 01-14-2019

Mr. Robert John Dougherty, 08-04-2014
Thanks, I like your answer. I agree with you.
My opinion on this is When we say QMS in my understanding is the way whether we satisfy our clients or consumers. QMS can also be an integration of many systems example: I can have Quality, HSE TOGETHER

--Inacio Da Fonseca, 07-30-2018

To sustain a safety management system over time, it follows that an organization will ensure total Quality management is implemented across all levels and functions.
--Funmilayo W, 09-25-2014

Sorry to state the obvious but quality management can also improve the quality of safety management. This makes quality and safety equally first.
--John, 08-05-2014

Quality culture helps safety but I've not seen safety culture help quality. Better to have both of course.
--John, 08-05-2014

In my opinion, without quality the safety standards and designs put into place are in vain. Safety is compromised if there is not a quality control effort in place. This is common sense, and I think it has very little to do with understanding. The people who are charged with designing these safety devices, and putting them into place, obviously do understand the bottom line when it comes to quality and safety! In my view, safety is a strong form of quality.

When we really begin to have serious problems is when we start to get too over comfortable with our safety concerns and plant assemblies. It is one thing to install a safety subsystem into a plant. But just because it works, or appears to work, is that a good reason for not digging deeper yet into our own psyches and challenging our own understanding? A lot of things we claimed we knew about in the past, still nagging us today and haunting us as a reminder to seriously reconsider before it is too late, is a red flag validating my point. There are many such red flags providing clues that a near to dangerous energy level threshold is being reached.

And not just in plants, gas works, and oil channels. I'm also referring to the unseen infrastructures, or infrastructures that may very well not be monitored near enough, or considered seriously enough to be for some reason. A good example of an extremely serious and sobering problem that was long-avoided for years by our scientists are the Sun's dangerous magnetic storms. These magnetic storms could affect our Earth, and have in the past. One area, I'll tell you right off the bat where quality and safety is certainly lacking, is the field of Magnetics. Knowing and deeply understanding magnetic fields and forces better could very well make for a much healthier and cleaner Earth.

Let's work harder to make Earth a beautiful place to live.

Robert J. Dougherty

--Mr. Robert John Dougherty, 08-04-2014

The author deals well with a difficult issue and clearly writes from personal experience. I can understand how people will take different sides depending on their perceptions and I can also understand why safety is a top priority in the oil and gas industry but it is the perception people in this industry have of quality that leads to the misunderstanding the author attempts to highlight.. As the author correctly states safety is a quality characteristic and he provides much justification for applying the concepts, principles and tools of quality management to process plant design, installation and operation. Traditionally quality management has focussed on the product which in this case is oil and gas - a commodity without distinguishing features , but it's not product quality that is questioned here but process quality and safety is but one quality characteristic of a process.

Its a pity that the author's discussion on tools has for some readers created a distraction away from the key message that putting quality first does not mean putting safety second, it means putting the quality of process first above profits and politics. A quality process is a safe process but the converse is not true. A safe process may not be a quality process if its performance is poor so a quality process fulfils requirements for all of its inherent characteristics.

--David Hoyle, 08-02-2014

Safety is one of the characteristics of the quality. Safety is the part of the quality. Safety is the foundation of quality and therefore safety is the basic minimum quality. For example if safety is the No. 1 of 10 characteristics, quality is 10. So which is coming first 1 or 10? The same way safety comes first but the same time it comes as the part of quality. We can't separate safety from quality. If safety fails, quality fails same as the foundation fails, the entire Building fails. Same way entire building fails means the foundation is included. So there is no 'Safety' vs 'Quality' situation only 'Safety' with 'Quality'. Let us say "Safety First!Quality Best!"
--Bastine Paul Attokaren, 08-01-2014

In my opinion, the bow tie analysis tool is "fluff".
It's easy to put on paper but harder to instill the necessary, personal, product awareness that comes from having pride in your work and your abilities. A skilled, knowledgeable, well trained and experienced operator, who can make snap judgements, can impact safety more than looking into the future (engineering and design mitigation) to prevent accidents.
Maybe wearing the bow tie will help make the individual have more pride in his knowledge.
There are many less complex methods to identify, prioritize and deal with quality and safety issues. I kind of favor fishbones.
--Dana Littlefield, 12-06-2013

Excellent article.
We believe that the absence of a quality culture gave rise to the following quality failures leading to the majority of Safety issues and BP 's incident of explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon is the great example.

Safety is not the issue it is a lack of an understanding of quality and its impact on the triple bottom-line economic, social and environmental.

Saskatoon-Saskatchewan Canada Sept.20/2013
--ASQ Quality in Mining IG, 09-20-2013

Given that many companies use quality tools, especially Six Sigma, to cheapen products, we want to be very careful about any comment about emphasizing quality over safety, particularly in industries like this. Rather, I'd state that quality systems ought to be an integral part of safety planning.
--Robert Perry, 09-06-2013

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