Risk Specialist Laura Madden explains how bowtie models work

If someone said the word “bowtie” to you, what do you think of?  An accessory or a safety risk management tool?  

If you think the latter you may either shudder at the potential size bowties can be or like me, you smile in appreciation for what information they can offer a safety conscious business.

What do bowtie models tell us?

The models are a visual risk tool that display the causal factors (threats) and outcomes (consequences) for a specific risk (top event).  They highlight the controls in place to prevent or recover the risk and can help you understand what could cause those controls to fail (escalation factors) - it's a risk picture telling a story.

Once the model has been built, you then assess the controls for effectiveness, criticality and other attributes to manage the risk

The use of bowtie, either its methodology or software is rapidly growing worldwide thanks to the introduction of Safety Management Systems (SMS) where aviation organisations are having to be more proactive in understanding what their operational risks are.  Bowtie offers a way of identifying them so that they can be managed more effectively!


In April 2014 the UK CAA launched a CAA-industry collaborative project where 24 bowtie templates were developed on a range of significant safety scenarios, such as aircraft loading error leading to loss of control; a runway excursion resulting in ground collision and a hidden area fire considering the human, technical and environmental aspects.  

How to find out more

The UK CAA have also endorsed and published a bowtie strategy.  This identifies how the CAA and industry can maximise the use of bowtie models as an effective and proactive safety risk management tool, to inform decision making for the right actions to be taken achieving the best safety outcomes.  

Our bowtie strategy and templates can be found at www.caa.co.uk/bowtie

I also Chair a Bowtie User Group (BUG) for UK and Ireland aviation bowtie practitioners, meeting quarterly, to work on best practice guidance and to be a support network for each other - if you're keen to know more, please contact safety.performance@caa.co.uk.

Take a look at our further information online to see how bowtie could help you manage your risks or turn your shudder into a smile!


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