Have you ever sat down and figured how much time (and money) you spend each year dealing with regulators, explaining how what you’re doing meets their standards on one project, and then having to go through the whole exercise again with somebody else on your next project? Ditto when it comes to fielding complaints and doing make-good work.
Then there’s the safety connection. As you look back over your company’s accident record, how many of them really reflect a lack of clear-cut guidance? How many can be attributed to ambiguous procedures? While your (and my) spring-loaded position might be to lay the blame on carelessness or stupidity, we might ask ourselves how many of them might have been prevented by clearer processes and instructions been in place?
How would you like to go through an entire year without any regulatory hassles, without spending your valuable time fielding complaints, without having to go back and redo work you’ve already completed? Even more important, how would you like to be able to close your year out with an accident-free record? “Fairy-tale stuff,” you're probably thinking. Still a pretty nice thought, isn’t it, and maybe it’s not so far-fetched, particularly if you consider that many of your troubles are rooted in a lack of standardization.
You’ve probably heard this from me before, but let me give what I consider the most indelible example of what an effective standardization program can do.
When I joined my first squadron at the completion of flight training, the accident rate for Naval Aviation stood at 0.67 major (mostly fatal) accidents per 1,000 flight hours. Now a lot of this reflected the difficulties associated with fitting far faster, much more expensive, and at that stage somewhat-less-reliable jet aircraft into operational situations designed for the slower, more predictable propeller-driven birds that had evolved over the past several decades. Aircraft and support systems and facilities not withstanding, a greater problem lay in the psyche of the aviators themselves, many of whom like myself felt that rules were made for lesser mortals, not for us steely-eyed Captain Midnights of the sky.
Then one memorable day, the squadron safety officer—the guy who lectured us on the evils of ramming into each other or the ground—came into the readyroom with a box of fairly thin booklets titled, Naval Aviation Training and Operating Procedures Standardization (NATOP) for the A-4D-2, announcing, “This is the Bible. Read and heed.”
Well, it took about two seconds for us to realize that people in high places had gone to a lot of trouble to put a lid on our wild-west tactics. Instead of “winging it,” now we were told how we were to approach our duties…with very little leeway for deviation.
“Flat-hatting’s out,” someone in the back announced, and the rest of us groaned, but the die was cast…adapt or go live in the mud were the choices. Within five years, the accident rate for Naval Aviation had shrunk to 0.67 accidents per 10,000 flight hours, and today stands at something less than one accident per 100,000 hours. Yes, the planes are better, the carriers are larger, the maintenance effort far more exacting, but behind this double-order-of-magnitude improvement lies NATOPS, the emphasis on the “S-word,” Standardization.
So what does that mean for us in our dirt-moving world?
Aside from the obvious advantages of standardization—reduction of pollution-related incidents, decreased cost of remediation, fewer complaints, less regulatory hassle, and reduced insurance rates—there are a number of related benefits that will come from increasing the visibility of those standards throughout your entire operation. For instance, standards can help you define “best practices” that, in addition to helping complete the present project, become benchmarks for future projects. A well-constructed EMS can identify instances of redundancy in day-to-day efforts for regulatory compliance and includes procedures and metrics for measuring and evaluating wastes and the costs of environmental emissions. This information can help you choose proper BMPs and determine beforehand their probable results. Standards can be used to guide daily action and determine the overall appropriateness of pollution prevention strategies. And finally, a properly implemented EMS will lead to predictable environmental performance that can reduce and almost certainly limit the severity of incidents. That leads straight to an increase in your bottom line.