Hazards and Risks Are Managed Simultaneously
Safety managers are tasked with "safety management" which can be considered "risk management," but includes considerably more tasks that fall under:
Regarding risk management in aviation, safety managers are constantly managing both hazards and risks. Risk management strategies revolve around controlling risk.
Risk can be controlled by:
- Mitigation (trying to prevent them from happening or reducing severity should the event occur);
- Recovery (the issue happened, now let's keep the situation contained);
- Avoidance (keep away from the hazards); or
- Transference, when possible (insurance company, contractor).
Reactive, Proactive and Predictive Risk Management
Most safety managers will recognize:
- Reactive risk management (immediate treatment of reported issues);
- Proactive risk management (not in response to immediate risk); and
- Predictive risk management (looking into the future based on past performance).
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Reactive risk management is where all new safety programs begin. Unless your airline or airport has a safety budget and upper management is committed to safety, then this is where you will stay. To move from reactive to proactive requires a more mature vision of how the safety program adds real value to the organization.
There is no way any aviation service provider can conduct daily operations without adopting some form of reactive risk management strategies.
Reactive risk management is easy to understand. Put out fires as they come up. The more fires, the more visible the safety team. If you don't put out the fires, you won't be operating for long.
Proactive risk management is where a more mature safety program needs to be, but this should never be considered the final solution. Your company at this point has documented all identified hazards and you are keeping most of the fires from starting.
Instead of running around putting out fires, the safety team may be seen:
- Developing checklists for employees;
- Reviewing and revising operational procedures;
- Managing documentation and risks associated with planned changes (management of change);
- Developing safety-related reports for upper management (safety assurance); and
- Communicating safety initiatives with employees (safety promotion).
In short, reactive risk management is putting out fires. Proactive risk management focuses on maintaining an environment where fires are less likely to start. And if a fire does start, your proactive strategies should be structured in a way that the fire can be contained more easily.
Predicting Future Events Based On Your Safety Record
Finally, there is predictive risk management. Imagine that the safety team has a crystal ball and is able to tell management that they will have at least one serious event within two years. How is this possible?
In order to predict events, the safety team will need to perform considerable work up front in the reactive risk management phase.
Let's first dispel the notion that if your safety program has matured to the predictive risk management phase, you will never suffer consequences from an event. This is pure poppycock and wishful thinking. There will always be fires to put out.
If you don't have fires, somebody is not doing their job. Safety management is akin to quality management with the philosophy that there is always room for improvement.
Your operating environment is constantly changing. Hazards, their associated risks and risk controls must be continuously monitored. Furthermore, risk management strategies must be revised to accommodate change. Safety performance monitoring is required in order to comply with the SMS' "Safety Assurance" component: "Continuous improvement of the SMS."
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When the safety team has tools to easily and effectively classify past fires, then they will be armed with potentially valuable data to detect trends. These tools don't have to have elaborate statistical formulas that confuse everybody.
If your SMS and risk management strategies are too complicated, people won't understand the processes and eventually quit participating. Keep it simple. Otherwise, you are needlessly introducing significant risk into your safety management program. In addition, you will never remain in the predictive risk management phase. The benefits of predicting future events will evade your company; therefore, you will not maximize your return on investment.
Besides the lack of top management support, the second most common reason for the failure of SMS is the departure of a safety manager who holds all the information on the intricate details of the SMS. If only one safety manager knows how to detect trends at your airline or airport, you should understand this trend:
Your SMS program will immediately return to reactive risk management strategies and suffer a severe setback.
The moral of the story: train in depth. Have a backup safety manager, even if it is an assistant.
Final Thoughts on Playing in the Predictive Phase
All aviation service providers conduct reactive risk management strategies whether they know it or not. This is true regardless of whether they are implementing an SMS. No business can remain afloat without managing risk and reducing loss.
Your organization may take two to three years before maturing enough to concentrate on proactively managing risk. This two-three year estimate is the time necessary to improve your safety reporting culture which drives the accumulation of safety report data. This safety report data is critical to identify trends based on historical safety performance. Without an easy, sustainable process to store and retrieve safety data, there can be predictive data analysis to detect trends.
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- Aviation Safety Managers' Best Friend - Trending Charts
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- Six Steps How to Perform Trend Analysis in Aviation SMS
Only stable safety departments will reach the predictive phase. This is the ideal place to be. Mature, fully functioning SMS will be practicing all three risk management styles. You never leave reactive and proactive phases. You merely grow into them.
In order to achieve the predictive risk management phase, you will never succeed without a modern aviation risk management software program. The predictive reports are too onerous to create each year without an automated SMS database solution.
Let's work together and we'll show you how to maximize the return on your SMS investment.
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Published November 2015. Last updated January 2019.