SMS Pro Aviation Safety Software Blog 4 Airlines & Airports

How to Monitor Aviation SMS' Safety Culture Performance

Posted by Tyler Britton on Jun 18, 2019 5:57:00 AM

Why Monitor Aviation Safety Culture Performance

How to monitor aviation safety culture

Healthy aviation safety culture results in safety performance.

Other than the bureaucratic elements of SMS, you could even make an argument that safety culture is safety performance. In aviation safety management systems (SMS), there is a requirement for safety performance monitoring and measurement.

How do you measure safety culture performance?

How do you determine safety culture performance is improving?

Aviation safety culture is notoriously difficult to monitor and influence. Changes within the SMS may take considerable time to determine the effect on safety culture. The consequence of this difficulty is that it is also challenging to monitor safety culture performance.

Related Articles on Aviation Safety Culture

Attempting to Define Safety Culture

In order to monitor safety culture performance in aviation SMS, you need to understand what safety culture is. There are countless different definitions. However, it is less effective to try and define safety culture than it does to establish:

What the above articles all point out is that safety culture will express itself differently in each company. Monitoring safety performance isn’t just about understanding what safety culture looks like, but what it looks like in your company. Then you can:

  • Use safety metrics to track safety behavior;
  • Prepare proper safety culture promotional materials;
  • Arrange the proper safety training to help monitor improvements to safety culture; and
  • Restructure the SMS to maximize safety culture.

Monitoring aviation safety culture is an essential part of continuous improvement and overcoming plateaus.

More than the safety team needs to be aware of how safety culture affects the SMS. The accountable executive is ultimately responsible for ensuring the SMS is properly implemented and effectively performing in all operational areas. In order to ensure the SMS is working, the accountable executive needs to monitor SMS performance.

Since SMS performance is reliant upon safety culture, it stands to reason that safety teams are monitoring safety culture performance in order for accountable executives to fulfill their responsibilities to comply with SMS regulatory requirements.

To determine whether the SMS is in compliance, there needs to be processes in place for accountable executives to regularly review organizational safety performance. Whenever substandard safety performance is identified, the accountable executive is again responsible for directing actions necessary to rectify the situation.

  • How do you measure safety performance?
  • What is safety performance to you?
  • How do you demonstrate organizational safety performance is improving or declining over time?
  • What tools do you use to measure and monitor aviation safety performance?

These questions should either trigger some inspiration or a mild fear that you don't have to tools or the capabilities to measure, much less monitor safety performance. If you have these abilities to monitor safety performance, you are well on your way to extrapolating the data and monitoring the performance of your safety culture.

Related Articles on Monitoring Performance of SMS Activities

Using Safety Data to Monitor Aviation Safety Culture

Without question, aviation leading indicators are the most effective way to monitor safety culture. Leading indicators are designed to assess underlying causes and "inputs" of aviation SMS. Many of these inputs-metrics are:

  • Behavior specific;
  • Account for behavior when the boss isn’t around; and
  • Correlate directly to safety-specific actions, such as hazard reporting and timeliness.

Examples of leading indicator metrics that are extremely effective for monitoring aviation safety culture are:

  • Average number of hazard reports submitted per employee per month;
  • Average days to complete corrective actions;
  • Average length of employment in company;
  • % of employees with over 5 years of employment;
  • Average turnover rate per year;
  • % of safety issues with human factor root causes;
  • Average end-of-training assessment scores; and
  • Average number of days for new employees to submit first hazard report.

Metrics like the above show the kind of safety behavior that involves:

  • Situational awareness;
  • Hazard identification competency;
  • Teamwork and Norms; and
  • Quality of safety behavior, as many of the above metrics will improve/deteriorate directly in response to safety behavior.

Above all else, employee performance monitoring is the best use of leading indicators.

Related Articles on Aviation SMS Leading Indicators

Safety Performance Monitoring Workflow for Aviation SMS

Safety Promotion Activities Monitor Safety Culture

Feedback from certain safety promotional activities is also an effective way of monitoring safety culture.

The first safety promotion activity to review is "safety surveys." Safety surveys are extremely effective promotional materials. Best practices for using safety surveys to monitor aviation safety culture are:

  • Make surveys anonymous;
  • Ask questions about employees satisfaction with the safety program;
  • Be frank with questions, even if the questions are uncomfortably “close to home”;
  • Make questions quantifiable and trackable; and
  • Use surveys semi-annually (or other similar time frame)
  • plot acquired survey data on graphs for total survey scores to detect trends; and
  • average scores of individual questions to detect anomalies that may contradict or confirm management's assumptions.

Safety surveys provide safety management with a golden opportunity for quantifying safety attitudes and safety behaviors. As safety teams conduct surveys consistently over time, there is an excellent opportunity to collate survey data and look for trends.

Using Safety Meeting Statistics to Monitor Safety Culture

A second safety promotional tool suitable for monitoring aviation safety culture is safety meetings. This type of safety promotion activity isn’t as easily quantifiable as safety surveys. If you have access to SMS database software that tracks safety meeting activity, you will collect some very valuable data that can also generate interesting trends, including:

  • Frequency of safety meetings;
  • Average number of employees invited to safety meetings;
  • Average length of safety meetings (are they too long or short?); and
  • Actual number of employees attending/absent.

Most aviation service providers don't have the ability to effectively track safety meeting activity, especially when they are using spreadsheets to manage their aviation SMS. If you are using spreadsheets, don't fret, as observing employee participation in safety meetings is still valuable. Creating trending charts in spreadsheets is also relatively easy for most computer users as spreadsheets are a common business tool used by most aviation safety managers.

Related Aviation SMS Performance Trending Articles...

Monitoring Safety Culture Performance Using Safety Newsletter Activity

The third common safety promotion tool that can be used to monitor safety culture performance is safety newsletters. Safety newsletters are very common in aviation SMS. You may appear skeptical that safety newsletters can be used to monitor activity, but consider these data points that can be trended over time:

  • Frequency of newsletters correlated with hazard reporting numbers;
  • Number of employees reading newsletters (yes, you need an SMS database to track);
  • Percentage of employees not reading safety newsletters over time (are there seasonal factors?); and
  • Day of week newsletters sent out compared to number of employees reading newsletters.

You will notice again that spreadsheets are the wrong technology to acquire data for future trend analysis. An SMS database is required, plus your safety newsletter publishing tools must be integrated within the SMS database.

How do you create and distribute safety newsletters? Many companies have SMS database software that helps safety teams draft and publish safety newsletters. Newsletters are sent either by email or are made available in an employee safety bulletin board, such as a dashboard that lists an employee's recent newsletters.

The SMS database needs to track the number of employees who were sent the newsletters and also track whenever an employee reads the newsletter. With the stored data, safety teams can analyze trends to monitor whether safety promotion activities affect SMS performance.

Safety Training to Monitor Safety Training

Ideally, aviation safety training should correlate directly to performance. When aviation safety training has no noticeable effect on safety performance, it indicates that:

  • Delivery of safety training needs work;
  • Type of safety training is not most effective;
  • Employees don’t care about the training.

Other safety culture monitoring activities should inform what types of safety training are most relevant for improving safety performance. That done, end of course assessments should be given and monitored. These assessments

  • Give employees incentive to take training seriously;
  • Provide quantifiable results for safety training;
  • Help management ensure that the best training is being used; and
  • Give management comparison point for training vs. other safety culture monitoring activities.

Related Articles on Aviation Safety Training

Restructure SMS for Maximizing Safety Culture Monitoring

Not all aviation safety management systems are built equally. Some SMS data management strategies are better built to monitor safety culture activities. Some key indicators of aviation SMS that are built for monitoring safety culture are:

  • Using integrated aviation SMS software;
  • Having a centralized aviation safety database;
  • Integrated quality safety management systems (QSMS) – i.e. no conflict of interest between quality and safety while completing duties; and
  • A plethora of checklists, procedures, and ease-of-use for submitting hazard reports and other SMS activities.

Restructuring your SMS can be extremely beneficial for your SMS' ability to monitor and encourage safety culture development. For companies with immature or under-performing SMS, one of the most important tools you can implement is an SMS database. An SMS database affords you the ability to not only collect hazard reports, but easily identify trends using the same database. An SMS database is scalable to track all SMS documentation requirements.

Spreadsheets are very difficult for scattered safety teams to to conduct safety performance monitoring and measurement activities. Furthermore, if you have more than 50 employees in your company, managing an SMS using spreadsheets and paper is too risky.

A good argument for adopting SMS database software to monitor safety culture performance can be seen from the accountable executive's position. Your accountable executive is responsible for ensuring the SMS is performing in all operational areas. The SMS database is for the accountable executive's peace of mind when he is called before SMS regulatory auditors to demonstrate SMS performance monitoring capabilities.

As safety managers come and go from the company, the accountable executive needs some assurance that SMS data is safe and that operations can progress smoothly despite disruptions in the safety team. An SMS database can give the accountable executive assurance that the SMS is alive and well. If not, the SMS database will more quickly advise the accountable executives that there are potential problems with the SMS.

Good luck with your SMS.


If you need help monitoring safety performance, we can help. We manage one of the well-known SMS databases that is used across the world for the past dozen years. Here are some demo videos to review and consider the possibilities.

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Published March 2017. Last updated July 2019.

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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