Risk assessments are usually executed by the safety department of an organization, so for them, the management of safety is quite clear. The struggle comes when they try to communicate risk outside the safety department at different levels, from higher management to the work floor. We see more and more organizations using the bowtie method to get their message across. Here are 5 reasons why:

1 – A bowtie diagram tells the whole story

A bowtie is a storytelling picture of how risk is managed in your organization. Before starting to talk about safety, people need to understand the bowtie model. So why not tell a story where everyone can relate to?

Let’s say you are going on a holiday to a very hot country. Your risk is to get sunburned while doing nice activities. Based on this, the ‘hazard’ and ‘top event’ is already filled out in the bowtie diagram below. Now we want to look at the threats, consequences and barriers. Everyone can relate to getting sunburned and knows the uncomfortable consequences of the inability to sleep or the less enjoyable summer vacation and we all know the causes of getting sunburned. Once the barriers are also explained, the concept of bowtie is clear and everyone gets the bigger picture.

2 – Everyone can understand a bowtie diagram

You can make a bowtie as complicated as you want and sometimes that is needed to assess risks. However, for communication purposes, you want to keep it simple. To what extent it needs to be simple depends on the target audience. People on the work floor need to know the specific unit or location and exactly which type of (safety) equipment they need to use to do their part on working safely and reducing risk, while higher management needs to know they have ‘an emergency plan’ or ‘Personal Protective Equipment’ to prevent extensive damage to the company. A bowtie allows you to easily adjust information based on your audience so everyone in the organization knows their role in the safety management system.

3 – Playing the bowtie game is fun and engaging

The best and most fun way to teach others in your organization about the bowtie method and how risks are managed in the organization is by playing the bowtie game. If you draw an empty bowtie diagram, people can use sticky-notes to identify all elements of the bowtie. If the main topic of the bowtie is already known, you can draw the bowtie without barriers. People that place the sticky notes (the barriers) in the right positions realize what the barrier actually prevents and how important it is in the context of risk scenarios.

4 – Creating a bowtie together leads to insights that might not have been identified otherwise

Making a bowtie with sticky notes as described above really helps to start a discussion. By playing the game together, people at all levels of the organization look at the bowtie and they all have different experiences with the various bowtie (risk) scenarios. The safety department can gain a lot of new insights into barrier/control performances and possible scenarios, which might not have been identified in the first place.

Also keep in mind that the bowtie is never finished, it remains a dynamic picture. Doing these bowtie discussions works best if you print out the diagram as large as possible and use sticky notes. It sounds a bit old-fashioned, but with sticky notes the discussion will keep on going and everybody can participate by writing down their feedback and stick it on the right place in the bowtie.

5 – One common language – the barrier language

Last but not least, is that using bowtie to communicate risk, results in the use of one common language: the barrier language. This helps to create risk awareness across the organization and understanding of barrier responsibilities. Once people see a barrier and note that it’s not working, they understand what the role of this barrier is in specific operations and which scenarios might happen.

If you’d like to know more about how to use the bowtie method to communicate risk in your organization, we are pleased to assist.