Why getting CROSS is good for the soul

The worst feedback I ever receive is when someone refers to a piece in the magazine from one of the services and says: “we do that, only better”. There appears to be no shame in taking pride in keeping perceived excellence in public service a secret. Surely the sharing of best practice in pursuit of constantly improving performance should be an act of humility, not vanity.

Discussing the virtues of CROSS (Collaborative Reporting for Safer Structures) with Neil Gibbins – former Deputy Chief of Devon and Somerset and past CEO and International President of the Institution of Fire Engineers – proved an exercise in modesty and curiosity from Neil as we were joined by an aviation industry safety pioneer. Rather than espouse the myriad virtues of CROSS (more on that later), Neil chose active listening whilst the aviation expert expanded on the development of safety standards – the fabled ‘black box’ thinking much heralded by this reporter – and the impact a similar conversation had on the formation of the Rail Accident Investigation Branch.

Asked where to start and what is of greatest importance in enshrining a transparent, blame-free learning culture, the defining factor is ethics, we were informed. “What about regulations?” Neil enquired. “Not necessarily: clarify the ethical basis of the organisation, engrain it throughout so that everyone is clear, and you go from there.”

Good job the Fire Standards Board are progressing at pace (see February issue of FIRE on Code of Ethics), whilst National Operational Learning promotes consistency and continuous improvement. So what can CROSS teach us?

Born from SCOSS (the Institute of Civil Engineers’ Standing Committee on Structural Safety), to help improve knowledge and safety, it integrated with CROSS following Dame Judith Hackitt’s post-Grenfell Building a Safer Future report and covers all engineering safety concerns, including fire safety. An expert panel reviews anonymously submitted reports on safety concerns to ensure mistakes are not repeated, which “enables professionals right across the Fire and Rescue Service and fire safety industry to collaborate in a very safe space,” Neil informs. “The idea is to encourage the professional sharing of knowledge and learning, rather than trying to attach any blame to anyone or any organisation.”

“Like the transformation the aviation industry achieved in overhauling the safety culture, a tool such as CROSS could and should be a game-changer”

Like the transformation the aviation industry achieved in overhauling the safety culture, a tool such as CROSS could and should be a game-changer. And culture in the broadest sense is a key issue for the Fire and Rescue Service right now. “By implementing a system that relies on trust, integrity and transparency,” Neil continues, “with people doing the right thing at the right time, CROSS is well positioned to develop and maintain a good culture,” as highlighted by Dame Judith in her report.

“It doesn’t matter where you are in the country, we need to be better at sharing what we are doing,” says CFO Chris Davies on pg 17 of FIRE March 2022 as he steps down after 37 years’ service.

So tell us about it: we’ll broadcast it around the world. And if someone does it better, you’ll have played your part in drawing the issue to attention, thus helping to raise the bar and saving even more lives. It doesn’t get any better than that.

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