NEWS | Feb. 1, 2021

Risk Management Moves into 21st Century

By Rebecca Coleman, Naval Safety Center Safety Promotions

The Naval Safety Center (NAVSAFECEN) is launching a new effort to improve the Navy’s risk management program for the 21st century and make it more relevant across all levels of the naval enterprise.

“Rebranding risk management reinforces the criticality of identifying and implementing successful risk management processes in everything that the naval enterprise does on and off duty,” said Rear Adm. F.R. Luchtman, NAVSAFECEN commander. “We must foster a proactive culture of excellence that encourages risk management, problem-solving and proactive thinking.” 

As the Department of the Navy’s safety advocate, NAVSAFECEN understands the role risk management (RM) plays in minimizing mishaps and hazards.

 “Risk management is arguably most applicable to every person in the conduct of their job,” said Christopher Tarsa, NAVSAFECEN executive director. “RM transcends every part of the naval business -- it is strategic, tactical, and personal, on and off duty.”

“We are moving from Operational Risk Management (ORM) to a RM mindset,” said Tarsa. “We rolled out ORM in the late ‘90s and it was good for that time. It is now time to move naval RM forward and align with modern RM practices.”

The challenge now is changing people’s mindset toward risk management. It is not an automated process or just another checklist; it is all about critical thinking.

To answer the challenge, NAVSAFECEN has formed a cross-functional team (CFT), comprised of subject matter experts across all warfare communities, to look at the RM program.

At the end of the yearlong project, the team’s objective is to emerge with a new OPNAVINST 3500.39E, Risk Management that addresses risk through a systems-based approach concentrating on proper acceptance of risk at the appropriate level. The team will also develop case studies that will demonstrate how to use effective RM at all levels within the Department of the Navy.

Understanding risk management fundamentally does not change; the CFT will examine the entire process, everything from hazard identification through actual adjudication and acceptance of risk and any measures taken in between. The team will keep pertinent parts of the current instruction but will expand its scope.

“The team will engage with their respective communities in the naval enterprise and work with them to help build the case studies as examples that Sailors and Marines can refer to,” said Don Ciesielski, Director, RM/Expeditionary Warfare Directorate. The CFT will also look at other military services’ and private industry’s RM programs. 

“We find in the RM world a lot of times risk is accepted at a level that is inappropriate for the risk,” said Tarsa. “If an organization does not have the power to correct the hazard, the risk should be accepted by the organization that can.”

“It’s about safety resiliency,” said Ted Wirginis, Deputy Director, RM/Expeditionary Warfare Directorate and RM Program Manager. “We need to put a program in place that will resonate with the naval enterprise and give them backup in case we have people that are untrained or make risky decisions.” 

“Individuals are part of the system,” he added. “Are we setting them up for failure? Do we have the proper supervision to ensure success? These are some of the missing things; we have to look at this process on a different scale. It’s not one size fits all.”

Accountability also leads to risk transference. As the team works on rewriting the instruction, it will address how risk is communicated and answer the following questions: Is accountability at the right place? Is risk accepted at the correct level?

“We are rebranding RM to make it fresh and new,” said Tarsa. “We aim to get our Sailors, Marines, and civilians interested and invested in reading the new instruction and adopting a different way of thinking.”