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From: Food Quality & Safety magazine, April/May 2012

Deadly Air Crash Provides a Lesson to Food Industry

Through my consulting work with various companies, I’ve observed how the effectiveness and impartiality of quality and food safety personnel can be influenced by the organizational structure. A non-food-related news story highlights this.

According to news stories from CBC and BBC, etc., the final Russian report on the cause of the April 10, 2010, crash of the Polish Air Force Tu-154 that killed the Polish president and dozens of other high-ranking officials cites human (pilot/crew) error as the primary cause but also cites an interesting contributing factor. Although disputed by Polish authorities, the Russian report reveals that the pilot likely succumbed to pressure by officials on board to land the plane in unsafe conditions in order to keep to their schedule.

What I find very interesting about this is the manner in which the expert judgment of the technical expert (in this case the pilot) was subject to influence by a superior and non-expert authority. I see the same structural influences unfold in food plants, where food safety practitioners who report to plant management are also subject to influence by non-expert authorities.

In the case of the Polish plane crash, one can imagine the Polish officials on the plane arguing vehemently about the “political” necessities that override safety considerations. One can also imagine similar “business” reasons being cited for overruling plant-level food safety decisions or for influencing those who make those decisions.

To me, this speaks to the importance of an organizational reporting structure that supports unbiased decision-making and the teaching of risk analysis principles and methods at all levels of an organization.

Paul Medeiros
Director Consulting Services
Guelph Food Technology Centre
Guelph, ON

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