UPDATE: US Beef Recall

By Kim Smiley

I wanted to add a few more interesting facts on the recent beef recall as the ramifications continue to surface.  As a quick recap, on February 17, 143 millions pounds of beef were recalled.  For perspective, that’s enough beef to make every person in the US about two hamburgers.  The scope of the recall is rapidly expanding and it may become the largest food recall in US history.  The full magnitude of the recall is just now becoming apparent because it takes weeks to track down all the products containing the recalled beef.

Take a second to think of all the products in a grocery store that contain beef and you can imagine how large this recall is likely to become.  The amount of food that is going to be destroyed is mind boggling and the cost is likely to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.  Keep in mind that no cases of illness have been reported, a large amount of the beef has already been consumed, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture classifies the risk to consumers as remote.  Does it make sense to destroy all this food? As you consider the scope of the recall, I ask you also to consider a root cause analysis of the problem.

The previous blog asked the question, what is the best approach to prevent this type of problem from happening again? I still don’t now the answer, but I do know that a recall alone does not solve the initial problems that caused the issue.  What cause really lead to sick cows being mistreated and then slaughtered for human consumption?  A recall deals with the problem after the fact and a good solution would change something in the process prior to the meat entering the food chain.  The USDA has stated that it will not be increasing inspections at food processing plants and I haven’t found any evidence that other changes are being made in the work process at the slaughterhouses.  I’ll be continuing to cook my meat well done.

Largest Beef Recall in US History

By Kim Smiley

One of the most interesting things about root cause analysis is its widespread application.   As an engineer, I tend to think about root cause analysis applying to mechanical failures, safety incidents or manufacturing issues, but it can be applied to any system.

Take for instance the recent beef recall.  The largest beef recall in US history was initiated on February 17 when Westland/Hallmark Meat Company recalled 143 million pounds of beef.  What started the whole thing was an undercover video distributed by the Humane Society of the United States which showed workers kicking, shocking and even fork-lifting sick cows to force them on their feet so they could be slaughtered.  Beyond the animal cruelty issues (two workers involved have since been charged), the issue is that meat from sick cows was processed and sold.  Government regulations ban cows that can not walk from entering the food supply because consumption of their meat may lead to illness, including mad cow disease.

So how did sick cows end up being slaughter and sold to millions of people?  What is the best approach to prevent this type of problem from happening again?  Is the answer that we need more government regulations, more frequent inspections or stricter penalties for companies that violate the current regulations?  Whose fault is it?  Is it the farmers for selling the cows, the health inspectors for missing sick cows or the slaughterhouses for processing sick cows?  Performing a root cause analysis would show you that there isn’t one right single answer.  All you have to do is look at the recent increase in beef recalls to realize that a simple, single cause solution won’t work.  There were five recalls in 2005, eight in 2006 and 21 recalls in 2007.  These recalls were not limited to one plant or even one company.  Clearly, fining one company or firing a few workers isn’t going to fix the beef supply issues.  You need to attack the root of the problem to keep it from growing back and to do that you need to find the root causes (plural).  The information needed to do a detailed analysis isn’t available to the public yet, but a very basic root cause analysis follows.High Level Cause Map

Goals Define the Problems in your Organization

By Mark Galley

For a particular failure, loss or incident, people will naturally disagree about what the problem is.  Some people will say the problem is this and others will say the problem is that and still others will let everyone know what the real problem is.  People see problems differently.  This is a given for any root cause analysis facilitator.

Is it possible for everyone to agree on the problem?  Yes.  It may seem unrealistic until we look specifically at what a problem is.  A problem is anything that negatively affects the ideal state.  People may see many different issues as a problem, but within an organization the ideal state is already defined.  The ideal state within an organization is also known as the overall goals.  Any negative deviation from the organization’s overall goals is the accurate, complete and consistent approach for defining a problem.  For example, let’s consider your local power plant.

What is the ideal state of that power plant?  Let’s say the power plant is supposed to produce 1000 megawatts per day.  Any negative deviation from 1000 megawatts is a problem.  If the plant produced 900 megawatts then the deviation is 100 megawatts (a production loss).  We could even put an economic value on this production loss.  But producing power is not the only goal of the power plant.  Organizations don’t have a goal.  They always have goals (plural).

The safety goal for the power plant is zero injuries.  Any injury is a deviation from the ideal state.  Some safety incidents are more critical than others.  The larger the magnitude of the impact to the goals the more thorough the investigation is.  A paper cut is an injury, but it’s not as serious as someone receiving 15 stitches.  Some problems are bigger than others.  The magnitude of the impact on the goals dictates importance as well as how thorough the investigation will be.  Minor incidents have relatively basic investigations while major issues require much more comprehensive analyses.

The ideal state of the power plant also includes no environmental issues as well as no customer service interruptions, no property or material losses, and no excess reactive or rework labor costs.  The overall goals of the power plant are safety, environmental, compliance, customer, production, and materials and labor (which are usually captured within maintenance).  Any negative deviation to any one of these overall goals is truly what the power plant should focus on for their problem solving and root cause analysis efforts…everyday.

The overall goals change for each type of organization.  A hospital has different overall goals than a food processor, an oil company or a bank.  Regardless of the organization or industry, the impact to the overall goals dictates where the root cause analysis efforts should be.

The Cause Mapping method to root cause analysis has a specific way of defining every problem by the organization’s overall goals.  People naturally disagree about what the problem is.  In the Cause Mapping method of root cause analysis it’s much simpler for the facilitator to accommodate disagreements about the problem – it’s expected.  The differences provide great insight into people’s view of the problem.  To get agreement, ask the participants, as a group, how each of the overall goals were impacted (if at all).  Amazingly, people will not disagree about the impact to the goals.  They will disagree about the responses to the question “What’s the problem?”  However, they will give the same answers to each of the goal questions.  Managers and front line people will give the same answers.  It’s powerful because it’s so basic.  Goals dictate what the problems are.

During an injury investigation in the power plant where someone sprained their ankle, when the facilitator asks “Was anyone hurt?” everyone will answer with “yes, John sprained his ankle.”  It’s obvious.  If you ask what the problem, people’s responses will be all over the place; he just tripped, the barrier is bad, maybe the floor was slick, inattention to detail, procedure not followed, etc.  In your problem solving and root cause analysis investigations experiment with this idea of defining every incident by the impact it has on the overall goals.

To learn more about quickly, clearly and accurately defining problems in your business attend one of our Public Cause Mapping Workshops listed on our web site or bring our workshop to your facility.  The Cause Mapping method is an extremely effective systems-based approach to root cause analysis.  Visit us at www.ThinkReliability.com to learn more about improving the way your organization analyzes, documents, communicates and solves problems.

Root Cause Analysis

ThinkReliability investigates problems, including historical incidents.  Some examples of these incidents include, but are not limited to, the sinking of the Titanic, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the BP Refinery Explosion in Texas City.  The Cause Mapping method of root cause analysis was used to create a visual picture of the cause and effect relationships of the incidents.