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How to Identify Hazards and Assess Risks in Aviation SMS Programs - With Free Resources

Posted by Christopher Howell on Dec 3, 2015 10:00:00 AM Find me on:

Reactive and Proactive Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment

How to Identify Hazards and Assess Risk in Aviation safety management systems (SMS)

Aviation safety managers are tasked to ensure that the safety risks encountered at their airline or airport are controlled to as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP).

Modern aviation safety risk management includes:

  • Hazard identification;
  • Safety risk assessment; and
  • Implementing appropriate control and recovery measures.

Aviation hazard identification and risk assessment are performed both reactively and proactively. New companies will naturally conduct a proactive hazard analysis exercise before commencing operations. Afterward, new hazards will be identified as operations are conducted.

Many safety managers have a problem determining what is a hazard and what is a risk. So let's tackle this before we get too involved in describing how to identify hazards and assess risks in an aviation safety management system (SMS).

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Hazard Definition Relating to Aviation SMS Programs

Hazards are anything that can potentially harm any of the following elements:

  • People (customers, employees, contractors);
  • The environment;
  • Assets (aircraft, equipment, buildings); or
  • Company reputation.

For airlines and airports, hazards are not always physical, tangible elements. For example, an intangible hazard could be:

  • Political instability;
  • Regulatory changes; or
  • Regional competition.

Tangible hazards are something we all can manage more easily because we can see it. These hazards may be:

  • Untrained personnel;
  • Mountainous terrain;
  • Cold weather;
  • Chemicals around the workplace; or
  • Infectious diseases.

Risk Definition Relating to Aviation SMS Programs

The risk is the potential impact or damage that a hazard may cause affected elements. The risk is evaluated in both a controlled and uncontrolled state. The risk is controlled using various mitigation strategies. These risk control measures are commonly known as control measures in an aviation SMS program.

Control measures may include:

  • Preventive actions that are designed to prevent an event from happening;
  • Detective measures that focus on quickly identifying when a hazard manifests itself; and
  • Corrective measures to fix or restore the company to normal operations after an event.

When managing hazards, safety professionals seeking to reduce risk to ALARP. the risk may still be present after treatment; however, future uncertainty becomes more manageable should an event occur.

What Is Hazard Identification

Now that we know the difference between hazards and risks, let's get to the meat of this discussion about hazard identification. Hazard identification is the process used to identify hazards. Simple, right?

We know what hazards are. Before aviation service providers commence operations, they have policies and procedures to control risk. However, hazards will always manifest themselves through:

  • Accidents;
  • Incidents; and
  • Other irregularities.

Safety hazards commonly manifest themselves whenever any changes affect the aviation service provider's operations, including normal work activities.

These changes may include, and are certainly not limited to:

  • Changes in work procedures or the working environment;
  • Purchase or lease additional aircraft;
  • Decommissioning existing aircraft;
  • Adding new buildings, runways or equipment;
  • Purchasing or switching new products (parts or chemicals);
  • Implementing cost reduction strategies;
  • Incorporating new labor-saving technologies;
  • Workplace changes due to accidents, incidents or identified irregularities; or
  • New employee union demands.

How Are Hazards Identified?

Learn how to identify hazards and assess risks at airlines and airports safety management systems (SMS)

Aviation safety hazards generally manifest themselves from the interactions of:

  • Physical work environment;
  • Equipment, aircraft, work materials and substances; and
  • Work activity and customer activity.

Hazards are also routinely identified whenever new information enters the aviation SMS program. This information may take the form of:

How to Assess Risks from Identified Hazards

Once hazards are identified and formally entered into an aviation hazard management system, they are reviewed and risk assessed. Hazard management systems may be as simple as Excel spreadsheets, Word templates or more advanced aviation safety management databases.

Aviation safety management databases make hazard identification and risk assessments easier

Most operators today have aviation SMS database programs to facilitate:

Aviation hazard report databases are not required in most parts of the world; however, in 2015, aviation service providers are now required to have databases to store and manage reported hazards.

Once the safety team understands the nature of the reported hazard, the proceed to perform a risk assessment.

Formal risk assessments in aviation SMS programs always involves considering:

  • What could happen should the hazard manifest itself (again, if already occurred); and
  • The likelihood of this actually happening (again, if already occurred).

Hazard risk assessments help safety professionals determine:

  • How severe the risk is;
  • Whether existing controls remain effective;
  • Whether additional actions should be taken to control future risk; and
  • How quickly do the corrective/preventive actions need to be implemented?

When safety managers are determining the likelihood of occurrence or recurrence, there are a few questions that should be answered. These questions may be part of your formal risk management policies and procedures, or they may be simple mental notes. Of course, we prefer that all risk management policies and procedures are adequately documented, but not so thoroughly that they will get you into trouble with auditors.

Aviation safety risk matrix commonly used to assess risk in safety management systems (SMS) to determine the probability and severity

Safety professionals that neglect to follow documented policies and procedures risk audit findings whenever regulatory auditors visit. Therefore, we recommend that processes are not overly detailed and that risk assessment processes are documented in sufficient detail that they will adequately address every possible scenario, from the low-risk routine issues to an event where there may be multiple fatalities.

Now let's get back to determining the likelihood of occurrence/recurrence in our risk assessment.

We have these simple questions to ask:

  • How often are workers or equipment exposed to this hazard?
  • Does increased exposure increase the chance of occurrence?
  • Has this ever happened before? At your company, another company? in the industry?

Risk increases as the likelihood and severity increases.

Evaluating Consequences Resulting from Hazard Manifestation

After performing an initial risk assessment, safety managers should next evaluate the potential damage should this event either actually occur, or recur. Several questions should be considered:

  • What type of harm will reasonably occur? (bodily harm, reputation, equipment or plant damage)
  • What is the potential severity (death, serious injuries, loss of engine or aircraft, loss of revenue)
  • What factors affect the severity? (exposure, type of chemicals, the weight of equipment);
  • Can the hazard be contained or controlled if it manifests itself?
  • Can one failure lead to another (water damage leading to electrical systems malfunctioning)

Final Thoughts on Hazard Identification and Risk Assessments

Hazard identification and risk assessment are an ongoing task for all aviation safety professionals. There will always be room for improvement.

Aviation service providers operate in an ever-changing environment. The risk is controlled and seldom completely minimized. The goal is to have a repeatable, easy to use the process to identify hazards efficiently and to track them. An end result for most hazard identification programs is the hazard risk register. This is a compilation of all your identified hazards, their initial and residual risk assessments, and their control measures. This is a topic for another time.


Managing risk for aviation SMS programs is not sustainable using spreadsheets. In short, the SMS documentation requirements are too great. A Risk Management Solution is affordable and pays for itself in labor costs and peace of mind when auditors come calling.

Watch 3 Risk Management Solution Demo Videos

You may be interested in comparing your risk management workflow to others.

Download Risk Management Procedural Workflows

Image: 2008 aircraft deicing at gate

Topics: 2-Safety Risk Management

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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