Expert Insights: What is Bowtie Analysis?
Posted on July 12, 2022 | in Operational Risk
Risk bowties, they can be performed as assessments or really just a tool, but they help us gain sort of an accurate view of your risk pathways, so, as an example, there’s often multiple causes associated with a single top event or hazard as well as multiple consequences that can come from that.
As an example, a fire – a pretty standard example – lots of different things could cause a fire in a high-hazard facility. A fire then can cause a lot of different types of consequences, whether they’re health & safety consequences, environmental consequences, or financial/asset damage, reputational, etc.
So, with this in mind, the bowties basically are visual representations of these risks. They give you a fuller understanding of the complexity of the pathways of those risks. The key part not just being the causes, consequences, and the event, but the actual controls that the organization has in place to protect against each one of those pathways.
So that’s what a bowtie is used for. It’s called a ‘bowtie’ because it looks like a bowtie, with all the causes, top event, and all your consequences, and everything in the middle is what you’re doing – what your organization has put into place – to prevent or mitigate those risks.
It’s really important for workforce engagement. One of my biggest things about a risk program – and this is also part of sort of a process safety management program – is workforce involvement. When you start using bowtie diagrams, your workforce can more easily understand sort of the linkage between the risk causes and the event, and between the risk event and the subsequent impacts.
A common understanding of how the systems and processes work, and their propensity to fail – those can be understood by the bowtie much more easily than, say, in a tabular risk assessment worksheet. We’re all used to these Excel-based risk assessments that corporations set up and make for themselves. The bowtie is visually just a better tool for giving that information out, as well as identifying trends within.
Another part of the bowtie aspect is being able to see all the controls, obviously, that you have in place for each of the pathways, and which of those are being over-utilized – maybe they become more critical – and you can use that information to set up a program of assurance that’s a little bit more optimized, where you know you’re taking care of the more critical controls and that they’re going to work when you need them to.