HSE has gotten pretty good over the years. PPE, Tool-Box Talks, Awareness and so on. All great initiatives that have save many lives and prevented uncountable injuries. But there is a macro-risk that goes unnoticed. A risk that can be identified but usually in retrospect.
It’s a risk that can force people on site to take unnecessary risks, seek shortcuts and put people in danger. It’s hard to spot because it doesn’t show up on site, it’s a risk-mechanism that started (perhaps) even before design began,
If the managers on site stick strictly to their procedures they can avoid the danger but when pressure grows there can be a tendency to waive the rules.
So, what is this monster? How can this HSE risk manifest itself in the early phases of the project and yet no-one sought to stamp on it?
Well it’s because the people who created the monster and the people who have to deal with it never meet. They live in two different worlds. And the HSE Department is in neither.
The monster’s name? The Fixed End Date.
Doesn’t sound very scary or unmanageable, does it? But it is.
The Fixed End Date appears around the time the project is sanctioned and funded. The profitability of the venture depends on the date being met. All of the finance revolves around that event. Nobody from HSE is in the loop.
The project players say the date isn’t fixed. It’s variable with a confidence range (+20%/ – 10% is tossed around at that time) BUT when someone senior enough sets a date it hardens quicker than fast-drying cement.
The other factor is that the date may have been chosen to suit a non-project objective. Nothing to do with ROI but could be about a royal opening, prestige, a gong for the company owner. A host of reasons that fix the date in solid stone. And the project manager isn’t selected yet.
Let’s skip to the period in time when the end date looms large. All of the activities are either critical or loaded with negative float. Additional work that has been hidden forces it’s way onto the agenda. The secret life of the project bursts out into the open like an alien out of John Hurt’s chest.
Someone pushes the red button. The people on site take incoming. The monster rears it’s head.
The long lunches at sanction stage, the prevarication/ procrastination/ political infighting – all forgotten. The task now is to get the welders to weld faster. The drive is to flood the worksites with men, machinery and equipment. The bugle calls up a night-shift, a back-shift, a miracle. A window opens and Commonsense throws itself out.
The project enters a fugue state where there is a hunt for the guilty and punishment for the innocent because the Great Fixed Deadline Has Not Been Met!!!!! And nobody told ME.
Of course, a welder cannot weld faster and the only possible outcome from throwing people into the breech is a steep rise in the probability of an accident. All because a group of people in the possession of scant knowledge with only a vague plan set a Fixed End Date for the project a long long time ago.
The only thing the Project Manager can do is to run a copy of all the weekly, monthly and quarterly reports that showed the real and moving end-date as identified by the Critical Path Network from when he started on the project right up till time now.
If Project Managers don’t have that paperwork? Then hell mend then.