31 Jul Optimising Bow-Tie Use in Complex Organisations

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How can an organisation get the most benefit from using the bow-tie methodology, especially when that organisation is quite complex? By integrating the tool fully into the company’s way of working, it becomes a powerful medium for obtaining relevant and broadly useful insights into the organisational risks. Once the organisation has a clear overview of the risks, then it can go about managing them.

Bow-ties need to evolve along with the company - always reflecting the current activities

Exposing safety risks

If you haven’t heard of it already, bow-tie is a risk assessment methodology that originated in the oil and gas industry in the 1990s. It is an excellent tool for visualising the safety of systems. Applying it in an industrial setting promotes a clearer understanding of what risks exist and how they are being addressed.

The bow-tie methodology has become widespread for both quantitative and qualitative examinations of risk and safety. The software solutions available today make it easier to apply it across businesses and industries. This makes it highly useful for the process of exposing and mitigating safety risks in the aviation industry.

Organisational considerations

The key to getting the most out of the bow-tie methodology is in building a sensible set of rules, as well as a standardised style and format, and applying these consistently throughout the organisation. This is often most relevant to large, complex organisations where there are many different users. Encouraging bow-tie creators and editors to share their results across the company can help to enhance the interdisciplinary aspects of insights and usage.

A central lexicon of terms is also a good idea. Differences in the definitions used in the qualitative risk matrix, or the estimation of the effectivity of a barrier, for example, are surprisingly common. Creating a lexicon ensures that everyone interprets things in the same way. What, exactly, is a runway, for example? Is it the entire paved physical surface area, as airline flight operations might say? Or is it the surface area between the visible markers, as airfield maintenance might define it? The distinction may be important when looking at risks of incursions, foreign object debris, etc.

Keeping the bow-tie up to date

Implementing the bow-tie methodology is not the end of the story. Bow-ties need to evolve along with company – always reflecting the current activities – to be the most beneficial to the organisation. This also requires ensuring that changes made to manuals are reflected in the bow-tie diagrams as well.

Bow-tie is a very effective tool for assessing and managing risks. It is an unfortunate waste of company resources when bow-tie diagrams are not integral to the way the organisation operates or are left to become out-dated. A robust strategy for sharing and maintaining them can keep that from happening.

Download our white paper ‘Optimising Bow-Tie Use in Complex Organisations’ for more tips and information on setting up a bow-tie system. To70 is a partner of CGE Risk Management Solutions for risk assessments and solutions.


About To70. 
To70 is one of the world’s leading aviation consultancies, founded in the Netherlands with offices in Europe, Australia, Asia, and Latin America. To70 believes that society’s growing demand for transport and mobility can be met in a safe, efficient, environmentally friendly and economically viable manner. To achieve this, policy and business decisions have to be based on objective information. With our diverse team of specialists and generalists to70 provides pragmatic solutions and expert advice, based on high-quality data-driven analyses. For more information, please refer to www.to70.com.

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Adrian Young
Adrian Young
Combining safety and efficiency in civil aviation is a key part of our work. With a passion for aviation and aviation safety, I have contributed to safety improvements for airlines and at airports in Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. Projects range from major hub airports to remote operations from dirt runways. When relaxing, I can be found in the artist’s studio, where I sculpt in stone.
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