Aviation Safety Charts Monitor SMS Performance
Aviation safety charts provide aviation safety management teams with an invaluable visual presentation of their aviation safety management system (SMS) performance. Yet it should not be only the safety managers that should be reviewing these safety charts. The accountable executive has much more at stake.
For every SMS implementation, the accountable executive is responsible for
- Ensuring the SMS implementation is performing across the organization;
- Regularly reviewing organizational safety performance; and
- Directing mitigating actions whenever substandard safety performance is detected.
Safety charts allow accountable executives an easy, fast way to monitor SMS performance. Furthermore, proactive risk management processes would be impossible to address adequately without the real-time information these charts provide safety professionals.
Related Aviation Safety Chart Articles
- Understanding "Root Cause Analysis" Charts in Aviation SMS Dashboards
- SMS Chart: Monitor Aviation SMS Safety Performance by Department
- Safety Chart: Overall Performance of Aviation SMS
In this article, we will look at one of the fundamental charts every functional aviation SMS should have instant access to. The “Types of Issues” that enter your SMS' risk management process can tell managers very quickly how the SMS is performing, including the health of the safety culture.
In this article, we'll assume you have an SMS database. We don't care which SMS database you use, because this chart is equally applicable to all SMS implementations.
NOTE: This articles uses a generic chart from SMS Pro. You are not expected to use SMS Pro to benefit from this content. This article analyzes a report that you should have in your SMS.
If you don't have an SMS database, then I strongly suggest that you acquire one if your organization's goals and objectives indicate that you will need a functioning SMS.
Not all operators require a functioning SMS. Some may only need a "paper SMS," although I doubt that very many operators will tell you that. A small percentage of operators adopt an SMS to achieve a particular business objective, such as:
- Acquire a short-term contract that requires them to demonstrate SMS capabilities;
- Fly into a country that requires SMS; or
- Increase marketability of the company (without ambitions to actually practice SMS).
Very small operators are not under the same scrutiny as a medium to large-size operators to comply with SMS regulations. In many cases, very small operators are not required to have an SMS, such as private operators that are not flying to foreign countries.
Consequently, these smaller operators may not have much regulatory oversight or their regional regulatory oversight is highly inconsistent at auditing and demanding compliance. This scenario is ripe for abuse. It becomes very convenient and cost-effective for operators to adopt and maintain a "paper SMS" where they are only interested in is "checking the SMS box."
If you only need to check the box, then we don't recommend that the operator spend money on an SMS database. Spreadsheets will suffice.
Operators with more than 40 employees or smaller companies with high employee turnover are recommended to have an SMS database to manage SMS documentation requirements. Smaller operators that have an SMS budget will benefit from an SMS database, but if budget is a big concern, then the smaller operators can use spreadsheets. There will be limitations from the spreadsheets and the result won't be as "professional," but the task can be completed.
Operators under EASA jurisdiction have not been able to store reported safety issues in spreadsheets since November 2015. A database is now required. There are commercially available SMS database subscriptions that can be purchased for as little as $100 per month. Consequently, if you are required to have an SMS database, the expense is not prohibitive.
So let's say you have an SMS database and you want a chart to monitor SMS performance. The "Type of Issues" report is an excellent chart that provides management with a very fast glimpse of the SMS' performance.
Related Aviation Safety Chart Articles
- Safety Chart: Monitor Aviation SMS Contributing Factors
- Safety Chart: Risk Level Breakdown in Aviation SMS
- Safety Chart: Track Your Aviation SMS Implementation
Monitoring SMS Performance Using Safety Charts
As an accountable executive or the director of safety, I am interested in knowing the volume of safety reports and what types of safety issues are coming into the risk management system. Your risk management system may accept reports from:
- Safety reporting system;
- Auditing system (findings and concerns);
- Training management system;
- Pilot flight duty system;
- Duty logs, etc.
Each company is different and depending on your SMS data management strategies, you may have more or fewer systems that feed into the risk management system.
As an example, the chart at the right displays the top 5 types of safety issues reported by either:
- A single division or location within the company; or
- The entire company.
From looking at this small chart, we can learn which types of issues are reported most often by their classification type, such as:
- injury related issues,
- environmental related issues,
- flight-related issues, and so on.
Most obviously, reported safety issues by type will inform management of several things:
- Which identified hazards or events are generating the most reported issues;
- Which hazards need to be focused on (risk priority);
- Operational areas that require more advanced hazard identification training or safety promotion activities;
- Changes in risk exposure over time.
Taking a look at the chart above, we see a rather ingenious function of this graph. Notice how it can be filtered by all reported safety issues, or by safety key performance indicators (KPIs). This convenient functionality allows safety management to hone in specifically on the types of issues that are most indicative of safety performance at this particular moment in time.
KPIs do change over time, but the KPI filter allows managers to monitor reported safety issues that indicate performance of organizational safety goals and objectives. Safety managers that have very extensive classification schemes know that there may be hundreds of classification types to assign safety reports. The KPI filter allows safety managers to strip away the unimportant details and only display data related to organizational goals.
Related Aviation SMS Key Safety Performance Indicators
- What Is a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) in Aviation SMS?
- 6 Sources for Aviation Key Performance Indicators
- Top 5 KPIs in Aviation Safety - Free KPI Resources
What "Type of Issues" Reveals about Your SMS Implementation
Charts of this caliber are a particularly useful aviation risk management tool because their results indicate the unique needs of the aviation SMS. Observing the safety reporting metrics using the "Type of Issues" chart is beneficial on its own, yet it becomes extremely beneficial when paired with other charts that you may find in your aviation SMS database's dashboard charts.
You may have noticed that this chart has been designed to be very small and requires very little screen real-estate.
This chart has been designed to be one of many "Dashboard Charts" in an aviation SMS database.
This chart is one of approximately 45 performance monitoring dashboard charts that:
- sit side by side; or
- sit on above or below the other.
In the case of SMS Pro, each user can choose which charts are visible on their main dashboard as well as configuring the placement of the dashboard charts. For example, a training manager may want to display different charts than the director of safety or a QA manager.
Your dashboard may have fewer dashboard charts, but if you don't have this "Types of Issues" chart, I suggest that you add this to your SMS database. It should be one of the first charts to add to your SMS' monitoring dashboard. Why?
In many different ways, the "Type of Issues" chart shows the core areas of the aviation SMS that:
- Employees have a mature degree of safety awareness (safety culture and hazard identification capabilities);
- Employees understand the relationship between hazards, risks, and risk controls in their area of operations; or
- Demonstrate the relationship between actual operations and reported safety issue types.
On this last point, when we are talking about “relationships” between safety issues, consider our example chart, which has a high degree of Injury and Damage issue types. Such information may be indicative that damaged equipment is causing injury, and that upgrading equipment may make the operational environment safer.
Of course, more thorough hazard analysis of specific safety issues would need to be done to draw conclusions. The point is that this chart has the ability to show large-scale trends in the risk management performance of your aviation SMS. Shown together with other complementary performance monitoring charts, managers become better prepared to engage in fact-based decision-making processes.
Related Aviation Safety Chart Articles
- Safety Chart: Monitor Aviation SMS Performance with Leading Indicators
- Safety Chart: Discover Most Relevant Aviation SMS Hazard Issue
- Safety Chart: Measuring the Efficiency in Aviation Risk Management
"Types of Issues" Chart's Validity Hinges on Reporting Culture
The main skepticism an aviation safety officer would want to have when looking at this chart includes:
- Is the number of reported issues consistent with what should be expected from a healthy safety reporting culture?
- Are there types of issues that are being under-reported?
- Are the reported issues an accurate reflection of the real number of safety issues?
- Are any operational areas under-represented? Is there a logical reason for this under-representation?
What we are getting at with all bullet points is assessing the validity of the information, as all data are only as reliable as their sources. For the "Types of Issues" chart to be reliable and used to its full potential, the safety management team needs to be confident about how reliable their reporting numbers are.
When management is dealing with employee resistance to the aviation SMS implementation or management is not confident that employees are actually utilizing their safety reporting tools, then they need to understand that the types of issues chart may not accurately reflect reality.
Poor safety cultures can be readily identified using this SMS performance monitoring chart. Very quickly. No muss, no fuss.
How to Access This Data
The reason "types of issues" chart hinges on safety reporting culture and risk management style is that the type of issue is in employees' awareness during hazard reporting.
Not only are employees aware of the hazard or type of event that should be reported, but also by the safety team's ability to properly and efficiently classify the reported issue. Warning bells should be going off when healthy reporting numbers indicate a strong safety reporting culture, but your number of classified issues does not match the number of safety reports coming into the risk management system.
For example, let's say that our company has 800 employees and we are getting 80 safety reports per month. This is a very good indication of a healthy safety reporting culture, i.e., one report for every ten employees per month. After one year, we should have approximately 1,000 safety reports in the SMS database.
When management reviews the charts, such as the "Types of Issues," they can account for only 400 issues. Where are the other 600? This becomes a red flag for not only the director of safety but also the accountable executive. From this analysis, we see that safety managers are not classifying reported safety issues on a regular basis.
This is a real problem.
The problem is that 600 reported safety issues sit in the database that could potentially help me prevent "The Accident." There are a couple of things that should be done with every reported safety issue:
- Risk assessments (initial, closing and review);
- Root cause analysis;
- Assignment to a responsible manager with risk acceptance authority over the affected area of operations;
- Closing the issue (in order to determine responsiveness); and
- Classifying the issue for future trend analysis.
Related Aviation SMS Trend Analysis
- Aviation Safety Managers' Best Friend - Trending Charts
- How to Use Trending Charts in Aviation SMS
- How to Prepare Data for Trend Analysis in Risk Management Programs
Related SMS Requirements
Because this chart has such far-reaching implications for the safety and risk management of an SMS, it touches on several areas of an aviation SMS' four pillars.
Mainly, when we talk about hazard identification and reporting and why it’s important, we are talking about Safety Risk Management (SRM).
In so many ways, Issues by Type allows aviation safety managers to assess which hazards pose the most pertinent risk to operational safety. Knowing which issues types are being reported gives safety management the opportunity to hone their attention towards hazards, risks and risk controls that are most likely to adversely affect operations.
Furthermore, when other types of operational safety issues are not being reported, safety teams can redirect or reinforce employee awareness by using hazard identification training or other safety promotion efforts, such as:
- Safety newsletter articles highlighting particular hazards;
- Safety surveys;
- Lessons learned library; and
- Safety messages (on electronic message board).
Safety professionals that are already very familiar with the four pillars would recognize this graph as being ostensibly for the purposes of SMS performance monitoring, which is a safety assurance (SA) process. SMS Performance monitoring is being performed continuously by line-level employees as they are interacting with the operating environment.
Auditors are monitoring operational procedures to assure management that designed systems are performing as designed. When shortcomings are identified, they enter the risk management system to be treated very similarly (but not exactly) like reported safety issues.
Finally, management will be monitoring the system as a whole using this type of performance monitoring tool.
To review the "system," we see safety reports and audit finding enter the risk management system in the "Data Acquisition" process below on the SA Performance side of the workflow. As safety issues enter the system, a "system assessment" will be performed to analyze and review the affected system's:
- Risks; and
- Risk controls.
In the scenario above, we had 600 unaccounted safety issues entering the system that had not been classified. There is no assurance that the safety team reviewed the affected system(s). To me, this remains a big red flag that 50% of companies need to address. Otherwise, you are not fully benefiting from the SMS' risk management processes.
From the image above, we see the SRM side. The SRM side has your system "design," which most aviation SMS represent in a hazard register. Your hazard register will have documentation related to hazards, risk related consequences and risk controls. When the system design is "broken" or not performing optimally, additional risk controls will either need to be implemented or existing risk controls will require modifications.
Related Aviation Risk Control Articles
- Difference between Hazards, Risks & Control Measures in Aviation SMS
- How to Evaluate Risk Controls and Risk to Aviation SMS Implementations
- FAA Part 5 Compliance | Safety Risk Management Risk Control Component
Where to Focus Risk Management Efforts
Indirectly, this "Top 5 Types of Safety Issues" chart can play a powerful role in informing management WHERE in an organization they need to focus their safety promotion efforts. Taken from another perspective, management can learn which safety promotion activities resonate best with their employees.
For example, for issues types that are reported most often, a safety manager will know right away he/she needs to ensure that formal and informal safety promotion efforts are adequately keeping employees aware of the risks. Alternatively, when safety reporting numbers are low for particular areas of the operation, the safety team can focus their safety promotion campaigns on topics that resonate with the operational areas with substandard safety reporting numbers.
Who Should Care about This Chart?
Everyone – this chart is far reaching into all areas of the safety program. As such, this chart is useful as a safety promotion tool for safety newsletters or as an SMS performance monitoring tool. It sheds light on:
- The safety reporting culture
- The greatest areas of risk to front line workers
- The performance and improvement of the SMS
- The capability for the safety team to effectively practice risk management
- Accountable executive's ability to provide oversight to the SMS
In short, the "Issues by Type" chart is one that employees and management alike should regularly be paying attention to.
An SMS database allows management to easily determine where to focus additional risk management efforts. Based on empirical evidence, management becomes disillusioned with SMS implementations because they are not realizing the financial benefits that were promised.
The reason that operators are unable to capitalize on SMS benefits is largely due to short-sighted data management strategies.
In the beginning of SMS implementations, most operators will try to manage SMS data using spreadsheets or in-house solutions. Within four to six years, these operators realize that it is easier to outsource their SMS data management activities to SMS database professionals who stay abreast of latest technologies. Unfortunately, these operators have already spent four to six precious years "spinning their wheels." Now, they will require even longer period before benefiting wholly from an SMS implementation. An SMS database reduces SMS risk.
The chart highlighted in this article is one of many that come with every SMS Pro product. Since 2007, SMS Pro has been working with aviation service providers around the world. We have become their SMS Partners.
SMS Pro is a system of integrated systems to facilitate the documentation requirements of internationally recognized aviation safety management systems (SMS). These integrated systems include:
- Safety reporting system;
- Risk management system;
- Auditing system;
- SMS training management system;
- Safety goals and objectives tracking system;
- Safety promotion system;
- SMS implementation management system;
- Vendor management system; and
- SMS performance monitoring system.
If you want to cut the time to fully benefit from an SMS implementation, I recommend getting a low-cost, commercially available SMS database. It doesn't have to be SMS Pro, but if you like what we offer, we would like to become your SMS Partner.
Please watch the demo videos below to learn whether we are a good fit for you.
Effective charts rely upon good classification lists. Here is an excellent hazard classification list for the aviation industry. It will certainly save you time.
Published April 2016. Last updated October 2021.