What Is a Risk Mitigation Strategy in Aviation SMS Programs
The primary objective of risk mitigation strategies in aviation SMS programs is usually detailed as being a plan to implement risk controls that reduce the likelihood/severity of each identified specific risk. However, this risk mitigation plan in limited in that it does not address the mitigation of hazard occurrence.
Despite the fact that oversight agencies generally stress risk mitigation as being accident centric, aviation SMS programs should include hazard-mitigation and risk-mitigation strategies. So, when we talk about risk mitigation, we include hazard mitigation in this conversation.
That being said, let’s clear up some important risk management terms and see how they apply to real-world situations:
- Hazard: a dangerous condition (situation);
- A specific risk: an accident or mishap that can arise from hazard occurrence;
- Risk in general: composite of likelihood and severity of mishap/accident occurrence;
- Mitigation: for a specific risk/mishap, lessening of the risk (in general) to an acceptable level of safety; and
- Risk Mitigation Strategy: plan, method, and control used to lessen likelihood/severity for each potential risk/mishap occurrence.
In the following strategies, “risk” is usually used in the sense of “a specific risk,” such as an accident, mishap, etc. Specific risk is associated with risk analysis and mitigation, whereas risk in general is associated with risk assessment.
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Here are the 5 risk mitigation strategies in aviation SMS programs.
1 – Risk Avoidance: Sidestep Mishap Occurrence
The risk avoidance strategy is probably the second most common in aviation SMS programs. This strategy revolves around avoiding a specific risk occurrence by limited or non-participation in activities that allow the hazard or specific risk occurrence.
This is done by:
- Selecting a different type of activity to accomplish goals; or
- Non-participation in the operation, procedure, etc.
This strategy can only be done when there are multiple activities, operations, etc., that can be used to accomplish the same mission. Fortunately, most missions can be accomplished in multiple ways.
Some common scenarios of risk avoidance are:
- Investing in aviation SMS software to avoid having incomplete or incorrect data (that issued to make safety decisions);
- Deicing aircraft only when aircraft is secure (to avoid deicing agent mist from entering aircraft and endanger passengers); and
- Having list of criteria that automatically cancel operation (such as certain fog level prohibiting landing).
Risk avoidance is usually a part of a decision for “go” or “no-go” at the beginning of an operation.
2 – Risk Reduction: Reduce Likelihood/Severity of Occurrence
Risk reduction is the practice or keeping a particular action, behavior, procedure, etc., to a minimum, or adopting actions to reduce severity. This strategy is probably the most common risk mitigation strategy in aviation SMS programs. The first purpose of this is to reduce the corresponding frequency of a particular hazard or risk occurrence.
- An organization finds that in a given time frame, runway incursions occur 1/60 runway maintenance check procedure;
- After review runway maintenance procedure, organization finds that in the same time frame they can actually reduce the runway maintenance procedures by half;
- This effectively means that half as many runway incursions will occur in the given time period due to limiting the number of times that procedure was practiced.
Risk reduction can also involve adopting actions designed to reduce the severity of potential hazard/risk occurrence. To use our example from earlier:
- The organization also finds that the procedure is started at the beginning of the runway;
- They change the procedure start point to the end of the runway;
- This change gives the maintenance check crew much more time get off the runway in the event of a runway incursion, thus reducing the severity should this runway incursion hazard lead to mishap (i.e., instead of collision >> evasive maneuver, landing gear damage, etc.).
3 – Risk Transfer: Transfer Ownership of a Specific Risk to Another Party
Risk transfer is the practice of changing responsibility of a hazard/risk by giving it to another party. The other party should be aware and accept this change of risk ownership.
For example, a common scenario we see in real world operations are aviation service providers transferring aircraft engineering associated hazards and risks to the:
- Parts provider; or
- Maintenance crew.
Risk transfer is a formal strategy in that it involves some sort of document, such as:
- Insurance Policy;
- Letter of Agreement;
- Statement of Agreement; and
- Memorandum of Agreement.
As such, this hazard/risk transfer is binding by law because it is contractual in nature.
4 – Risk Assumption: Treat the Mishap Occurrence As Acceptable
Risk assumption arises after the Risk Assessment process. Risk assumption means that the risk is “assumed” or “taken on” by the airline or airport SMS program. It’s another way of for an organization to say:
- We are aware of this hazard/risk;
- We have analyzed and assessed the hazard/risk; and
- It is within our defined level of acceptability.
Such hazards and risks should be regularly monitored and reviewed to ensure that they maintain acceptability.
5 – Segregation of Risk Exposure: Spreading of Risk
This strategy is akin to the phrase, “Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.” This usually involves spreading out hazard mechanisms and other risk factors:
- Into multiple locations;
- Contained within multiple barriers; or
- Between multiple duties and roles.
The idea is that by isolating specific causes of hazard and risk occurrence, and distributing those causes among multiple controls, people, locations, etc., overall exposure of the organization is reduced. For example, some common real-world example are:
- Keeping sensitive electrical equipment (i.e., airport servers) in wet-proof rooms;
- Keeping fuel storage away from any combustible machinery (furnace, electrical rooms, etc.);
- Having company backup servers in separate (off-site) location; or
- Keeping fuel stored in special containers (i.e. ISO containers).
Final Thought: Other Risk Mitigation Strategies As Subsets of above Strategy
Some guidance will list a couple of other strategies, which actually simply tend to be subsets of already mentioned risk mitigation strategy. These sub-strategies are:
- Risk control – risk controls are a part of every one of these risk mitigation strategies;
- Duplication of resources – this is a primary tenant of segregation, where multiple controls (duplication) will be used to isolate and manage risk; and
- Loss reduction – this is included as a part of a Risk Reduction strategy.
An essential part of any risk mitigation strategy in aviation SMS programs is understand how you manage safety. Take this free quiz and find out your safety management style:
Published September 2017. Last updated in March 2020.