Many companies have embraced the importance of conducting risk assessments as a good safety practice; while others still rely on the findings of incident investigations and regulations to approach risk reduction. Unfortunately, doing the latter can have numerous ‘blind spots’, which can prevent comprehensive understanding of hazards, risks, and necessary actions to prevent and/or mitigate risk events from occurring.

There are different techniques available for conducting risk assessments to identify hazards, risks and barriers. These techniques range from brainstorming sessions, utilizing the Swiss cheese method, and conducting bowtie assessments. All of these methods add value to the risk assessment process; but the bowtie method is perceived to be the most thorough.

The first ‘real’ bowtie diagrams appeared in 1979, but how and when the method found its exact origin is not completely clear. After the catastrophic incident on the Piper Alpha platform in 1988, the oil and gas industry was urged to gain more insight in the causality of seemingly independent events and conditions and to develop a systematic/systemic way of assuring control over these Hazards. In the early nineties the Royal Dutch / Shell Group began utilizing bowties, followed quickly by the other oil and gas industry leaders. Recently other industries have started to use bowties as well including aviation, mining, maritime, chemical and health care. (CGE Risk Management Solutions B.V., 2015)

Where Does a Bowtie Fit into the Risk Management Process?

The risk management process is generally comprised of four main phases, which repeat on a regular basis to support continuous improvement efforts. The four main phases of the risk assessment process are outlined below:

  1. Identify Risks

  2. Assess Risks

  3. Respond

  4. Monitor and Review

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