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Retaining Risk Knowledge During Employee Changes

Written by Risk Alive

October 8, 2020

It happens in every company, the key resource, a person who has been on the team for years or even decades, has left your organization. They were offered a new position, or perhaps this was due to an economic crisis or changing business models and restructurings which resulted in them being laid off. What’s left behind is a massive knowledge gap that needs to be filled and little time to do so.

This becomes crucial if the resources were taking care of a safety critical position. Regardless of why your experienced team members leave, knowledge retention is a critical business activity which is reflected in safety and sustainable operations, where the impacts are felt on a bigger scale.

According to a report from The Work Institute, 27% of employees voluntarily left their jobs in 2018 and 35% will leave their jobs each year by 2023*. Your company’s retention stats may look different, but it’s a safe bet that regardless of how well you do holding on to key personnel, there is always knowledge leakage occurring. These people who are leaving are often senior personnel and subject matter experts who your safety programs rely on. They know every valve, every flange and have seen things go wrong or enough near-misses to have the constant vigilance needed to keep plants running safely.

Recently speaking with a Risk Alive client, the challenge they were experiencing was that their facility team had a culture of ‘Tribal Knowledge’. In their case, the tribe is the operations shifts and knowledge is shared among the tribe through stories and informal sharing – but never formally documented. There was a great deal of pride in what they knew about the facility however, with the loss of personnel, that knowledge was walking out the door. They and many others in high-hazard industries know they cannot afford to have the new generation repeat the mistakes and learn the lessons the hard way like those who went before them. It is too costly and too many lives have been lost or changed to pay the price of what industry knows today.

“It’s good to learn from your own mistakes.
It’s better to learn from other people’s mistakes.”
– Warren Buffett

Managing employee retention can help alleviate the pain of knowledge leakage but it’s only a stopgap measure if systems are not in place to sustain corporate knowledge over the long term. You may have hired some of the best risk experts in the world and they may stay with you throughout their whole career, but the fact is, they will retire and leave your team one way or another at some point in the future. By ensuring you build systems, you can use technology and tools to make the knowledge capture automatic. That will ultimately help this become a continuous process and just a part of the greater strategy as you do business while taking stress out of the situation.

4 Questions You Can Ask To Help Improve Your Risk Knowledge Retention

  1. What are we doing to retain the safety knowledge of our most experienced personnel?
  2. Are there existing processes like PHAs where the knowledge is already being documented, which can be used better?
  3. How are we communicating this critical intelligence to new generations of our workforce?
  4. How do we make this a continuous process and part of how we do our work?

Risk Management is Serious Business 

According to an information sheet from the Italian Association of Chemical Engineers (AIDIC), administrative and organizational changes are a hidden risk with major threats:

“Administrative system change and organisation system change Though these two changes are considered as lower threats in causing MOC failure, accidents do happen. Majority of the management under estimate these two changes and is reluctant to carry out MOC practice in risk assessment for procedure revision, process control changes, organisation restructuring, review of policy review, work pattern change, sourcing of alternate contractor or suppliers and etc. As a result, accidents can take place if change is not managed systematically.

One of the major problems faced by organisations is that movement of personnel within the organisation is more frequent than changes to hardware. Change in people occurs both at the operational and at management levels. When experienced people leave or being transferred, their knowledge and experience can disappear with them. Before new personnel take over their positions, there is a necessity to have an MOC review in terms of skill and training needs, and provide the necessary competency especially in identifying and managing abnormal situations. The relocation of technical professionals away from plant resulting in their nonavailability to provide timely advice during abnormal plant operations was considered as one of the contributing factors to the classical incident of Esso Longford plant in Australia (Dawson and Brooks, 1990).”

Are you retaining the full scope of knowledge throughout changes on your team? Need to improve the way to you keep risk insights accessible across your team? Drop a comment with your thoughts below or connect with us to find out how Risk Alive® can help you!


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