Boeing Crisis Highlights The Opportunity For Greater Collaboration Between Quality And Safety Efforts

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Boeing Crisis Highlights The Opportunity For Greater Collaboration Between Quality And Safety Efforts

Boeing is in the midst of a safety crisis. The firm’s safety and quality control standards are again facing scrutiny after an incident on a commercial Alaska Airlines flight in January, where an unused door blew out of a Boeing 737 Max model shortly after take-off. This incident resurfaced previous concerns: five years ago, Boeing faced one of the biggest scandals in its history, after two brand new 737 Max planes were lost in almost identical accidents that cost 346 lives. Investigations uncovered flawed flight control software as the cause of the incidents, details of which it was accused of deliberately concealing from regulators. The incidents resulted in a $2.5 billion payout, the ousting of several leading execs – including CEO Dennis Muilenburg – and a $40 billion drop in Boeing’s market capitalization over two weeks.

Despite the Alaska Airlines incident not resulting in serious injury, it has kickstarted a disastrous start to 2024 for Boeing. Its stock price tanked once more during March after the New York Times reported Boeing failed almost 40% of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) audits of its manufacturing process for its 737 Max commercial jets, and Boeing’s key manufacturing partner Spirit AeroSystems failed 54% of federal audits. This latest drop sees Boeing’s stock down 29% this year, making it the second worst-performing firm on the S&P 500. For Boeing, the quarter was capped by the axing of its CEO Dave Calhoun – who will step down at the end of the year – in addition to the head of the commercial airlines division – who will retire immediately – and its chairman – who will not stand for re-election.

Boeing’s safety crisis presents an extremely high-profile case study that highlights a critical research focus for the Verdantix EHS team: the importance of rigorous quality management for safety. This is especially the case in product intensive manufacturing industries, where occupational safety, product safety and quality are symbiotic efforts that form critical pillars for effective operations. Although these three pillars comprise similar activities – most notably compliance inspections, audits, incident investigations and observations – collaboration between managing teams is often fragmented, without consistent frameworks or consolidated systems.

Why would it be beneficial for occupational safety, product safety and quality efforts to integrate more effectively? One prominent answer is: the ability to project the right culture across your wider workforce. A poor safety culture may have been a leading cause of Boeing incidents. The FAA’s probe into Boeing’s culture saw that the organization fostered an environment where workers feared retaliation for reporting safety concerns and a lack of awareness about safety policies.

While each element of safety and quality requires independent expertise, unifying the practices through consolidated management systems or more collaborative teams can drive numerous benefits (see Verdantix Strategic Focus: When Should Firms Tie EHS And Quality Together?). For instance, effective collaboration allows firms to employ a more holistic approach to EHSQ risk management that is more visible to workers. In terms of technology, centralized EHSQ tools lower the change management effort required for firms to deploy digital management workflows across safety and quality.

To learn more about providers of quality management software, see Verdantix smart innovators reports. Watch out for a bumper crop of quality-related reports that are scheduled in our EHS research agenda! To browse these and other EHSQ reports, view our research portal.   

Tom Brown

Senior Analyst

Tom is a Senior Analyst in the Verdantix EHS practice. His current research agenda focuses on a range of EHS topics, including high-risk safety controls, contractor management, environmental services and EHS digitization strategy. Prior to joining Verdantix, Tom achieved a Master’s in Chemical Engineering from the University of Nottingham.