SMS Pro Aviation Safety Software Blog 4 Airlines & Airports

How to Classify Safety Issues in Aviation SMS Programs

Posted by Tyler Britton on Oct 2, 2017 6:18:00 AM

What are Classifications in Aviation SMS Programs

How to classify safety issues in aviation SMS programsClassifications are how you organize your safety concerns into qualitative groups. In this way, classifications “summarize” safety issues in multiple ways.

Over time, based on classifications, you can data-mine all safety issues to see what types of concerns are most and least problematic in your organization.

Oftentimes, classifications are organized into easy to manage forms like a tree, where you can expand and collapse relevant classification groups. This makes organizing upwards of 100 or more pieces of data manageable.  

Classifications are also indicative of how well developed and functional an aviation SMS program is. Organizations that take the time to create solid, thoughtful classifications are usually on top of their safety program.

Here's what you need to know to classify safety issues in aviation SMS programs.

Best Practices for Classifying Safety Issues

Unfortunately, there is little oversight guidance and resources for classifying safety issues. This is a major loss because:

  • Classifications are the foundation of data analysis in aviation safety programs; and
  • Lack of unity among operators for classifying issues; and
  • Major loss of opportunity for growth of aviation service providers’ safety programs.

So, here are best practices that we have seen that significantly improve classification usability:

Use classifications with three levels:

  1. Category to group larger, system related classifications, such as Flight Ops, Ground Ops, etc.
  2. Sub-Category to organize system classifications into relevant groups, such as Landing, Takeoff, ATC, On-Board Aircraft, etc.
  3. Classification to identify specific type, such as Rejected Landing, Aborted Landing, Unstable Approach, etc.

Have multiple classification types, such as:

  1. Type of issue
  2. Hazards
  3. Human Factors
  4. Root Causes
  5. Risk Controls (i.e., create classification tree that includes all risk controls)
  6. Policies/Procedures (i.e., create classification tree that includes all policies/procedures)
  7. Job Duties
  8. And so on

Use the following guidelines for applying classifications to safety concern:

  • Minimum Type of Issue classifications: one is ideal, but sometimes two are necessary
  • One Hazard classification: there is only one primary dangerous condition per safety issue;
  • Multiple root cause classifications
  • 1-3 Human Factors: apply only the most important ones per issue; and
  • 2 or less Safety Policy/Procedure classifications

Remember, these are not hard rules, they are simply best practices – i.e. “soft rules”. Some issues will require you to be flexible.

The only hard rule is apply classifications to issues very thoughtfully, because important safety decisions are made based on them!

How to Classify Safety Issues

Classifying safety issues has a very short learning curve. It simply involves documenting an association of particular types of classification with an issue, such as:

  • Primary hazard;
  • Type of safety concern;
  • Root causes;
  • Relevant Human Factor(s);
  • Relevant safety policies/procedures; and
  • Other relevant classifications.

The process basically looks like this:

  1. Safety issue is reported;
  2. Safety management/team investigates issue details;
  3. Safety management/team performs risk analysis on the safety issue; and
  4. After finishing, safety management will qualify analysis by organizing the issue with various types of associated classifications.

How you apply classifications to safety concerns depends on what kind of risk management tools you are using. If you have aviation risk management software, such organization will be automatic and you will simply need to select which classification you want, where it will be documented for you.

If you are using a spreadsheet, such as Excel, you will need columns for each type of classification in your reported issues table where you can list the classifications. Having any meaningful use of paper documented classifications will be difficult.

Over time, you will have a nice set of data to data-mine for safety trends.  

How to Use Classification Data

Classification data will be used in nearly every facet of decision making in risk management programs. These data will be used for:

Final Thought: Most Common Classification Mistakes

Here are the most common mistakes people make regarding classifications:

  • Don’t consistently classify each safety issue, leading to an incomplete picture of SMS program;
  • Apply too many classifications to each issue, leading to over saturated data;
  • Don’t update and review classifications, leading to inadequate classification options and poor representative data; and
  • Thoughtless application of classifications to each issue, leading to very unreliable safety data.

Classifications should be applied very carefully, reviewed regularly, and old issue classifications should be updated where necessary.

For more helpful information, see these hazard classifications list which you can use as a template and modify to meet the needs of your organization.

Download Free Hazard Classifications Lists

Topics: 3-Safety Assurance

Site content provided by Northwest Data Solutions is meant for informational purposes only. Opinions presented here are not provided by any civil aviation authority or standards body.



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