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Introductory speaker at Safety Forum’s annual conference: ”Extensive reorganisations affect safety”

There were no indications in the accident and incidents data to suggest a change to aviation safety following the turbulent reorganisation of Avinor. ”However, more advanced temperature gauging showed that the Norwegian aviation safety was in fact weakened as a result of the reorganisation. Among other factors, air traffic controllers felt that the management did not feel the same responsibility for aviation safety as before,” says Eric Arne Lofquist, researcher at NHH Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration and the introductory speaker at Safety Forum’s annual conference on 9 June 2009.

Eric Arne Lofquist, innleder på Sikkerhetsforums årskonferanseLofquist wrote his Ph.D. thesis on safety in Avinor during the reorganisation process, after following the organisation closely since 2003. He defended his thesis Measuring the Effects of Strategic Change on Safety in a High Reliability Organization in September last year.

Lofquist has been invited to the Safety Forum annual conference on 9 June to speak about “organisation-related disasters – on vulnerability and challenges in high reliability organisations”.

During his lecture, he will elaborate on the methodology used in the thesis, which conclusions he made and not least, what other organisations and businesses can learn from the findings.

Free flow of information
The reorganisation of Avinor was primarily motivated by a desire to cut costs, without this affecting aviation safety. One of the suggested cost cutting measures was to train fewer air traffic controllers during a time when air traffic was on the rise, as well as closing air traffic control centres. Air traffic controllers were in uproar.

Lofquist was given carte blanche to collect all relevant information, and conducted interviews with air traffic controllers and senior executives at Avinor. As a result, he gained extensive knowledge of the basis, plan and goal for the reorganisation process.

“The process was very extensive. What is strategic change, redundancies, reorganisation, new management process or new technology? Avinor was doing it all at the same time.”

Complex, technology-intensive – and vulnerable
“There were no major aviation incidents in Norway during this period. Still, the thesis shows that aviation safety was negatively affected by the extensive organisational changes. When employees feel that the management of the organisation no longer takes its responsibility as seriously as before, it strongly affects both thoughts and behaviour,” Lofquist says.

He emphasis that in other to form a qualified opinion on changes to the safety picture, it was necessary to use far more refined methods than to just look at quantitative incident data.

“There can be a quite a major reduction of safety without this necessarily causing a disaster or showing up on measurable incident data. In aviation safety this happens because it is not only Avinor employees who are responsible for safety – all the airlines are also high reliability organisations,” he stresses.

Organisation-related disasters
“At the same time, high reliability organisations are very complex and technology intense. And not least, they are highly vulnerable to human error,” says Lofquist.

Much of the research on high reliability organisations has been limited to a fairly limited number of organisations. Researchers in the field have focused their attention on organisations with potential for disasters, such as nuclear power plants, military and civilian aviation and chemical industry.

“There are a number of examples throughout history – amongst other from the nuclear power industry, civilian aviation and major accident risk prone industries, where we have had what I would call organisation-related disasters”, Lofquist emphasises.

American fighter pilot in Bergen
Eric Arne Lofquist was born in the U.S., and has a broad education and work experience, including 28 years in the U.S. military, where he served as a fighter pilot.

So why Norway, Bergen and NHH Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration? He is married to a woman from Bergen!

Annual conference previews
The Petroleum Safety Authority Norway is highlighting relevant lectures and speeches ahead of Safety Forum’s annual conference. The articles are journalistic works. The viewpoints expressed in the articles may not necessarily represent the views of the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway, nor is the content binding in any way for the Norwegian authorities or the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway.