Success Isn’t Guaranteed
Regardless of the size or complexity of your organization, every aviation service provider recognizes that risk exists in the operation due to the nature of the industry and ever-changing environment. There are no aviation safety products or processes that will totally insulate you from risk.
Every intelligent person recognizes that an aviation safety management system (SMS) will not ensure that you will be more successful. You may still experience loss. This loss may be:
Are you the type of operator that counts your losses as part of doing business?
Do you have time-tested processes that assure successful operations? Or perhaps you are counting on a combination of factors, such as your "time-tested processes" and an SMS manual or safety database to insulate yourself from regulatory scrutiny?
Over the years, I have seen a problem regarding the adoption of aviation safety products that were designed to increase success.
Aviation Tools Must Be Used
Every operator struggles to minimize if not eliminate the possibility of an accident or incident. In order to minimize risk to as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP), operators must:
- Analyze existing hazards
- Identify risks associated with these hazards
- Enact control measures to mitigate the risk
Problems may occur when the operator relies too heavily on their established processes and aviation safety products or they are not using them as intended. There are literally scores of cases where I see aviation service providers expend considerable resources to implement their aviation SMS program, only to let that effort go to waste. Here is a case in point.
Modern technology and aviation safety database tools have leveled the playing field. Smaller operators can afford to use the same, high-quality safety management systems as their larger competitors.
Unfortunately, these smaller operators are missing out on opportunities because they either don't have adequate risk management training, or management keeps company safety personnel so busy that they cannot perform their safety tasks effectively.
Very often I see part-time safety managers expected to perform their full-time job and also to manage:
- SMS training courses
- Internal and external audits
- Safety promotion activities (messages and safety newsletters)
- All risk management activities resulting from the hazard reporting program
When safety managers are too busy, the first item on their plate to suffer is the SMS program. After all, it is very easy to let many of the activities slip, such as:
- Reviewing safety policies and procedures
- Analyzing operational risk based on collected data
- Documenting risk management activities
- Safety promotion activities (safety surveys, safety newsletters, regular safety communications)
In short, just because you have acquired a state-of-the-art safety database does not ensure your SMS program will be successful. You have to use it.
All Aviation SMS Programs Start With Good Intentions
I seen many operators start with good intentions. They:
- Start their SMS programs
- Gain top-management commitment
- Create their SMS manuals;
- Acquire a hazard reporting solution
- Train employees on the basics of safety management systems.
Then something would happen.
Safety manager leaves the company...safety program dies.
Mid-level management not fully supporting the safety program...safety program dies.
Part-time safety manager becomes too busy with other tasks...safety program dies.
Aviation SMS hype in the region subsides...safety program dies.
Dedicated Safety Managers
From experience, companies with more than 60-80 employees should have a dedicated, full-time safety manager. Smaller companies often cite lack of resources for a dedicated safety manager. This is completely understandable.
In these cases, the safety management workload must be more evenly distributed.
For example, I have seen many hard-working safety managers develop a company's hazard register independent from the company's department heads, such as director of flight ops or director of maintenance. These directors may not know what a hazard register is and neither the time nor inclination to learn about hazard registers.
In these cases, the safety manager will list out the
- Associated risks
- Control measures
Whenever the safety manager performs the proactive hazard analysis exercise without participation from department heads, you can expect a finding to hit your company within three years. I'm being generous here, and assume that your regulatory auditors are competent. This is not always the case.
Participation Is Vital
Unless you have the participation of the department heads, you will have no idea whether your control measures are effective or even relevant.
After all, the safety manager cannot see deeply into the workings of each department; therefore, it is imperative that department heads are trained in proactive hazard analysis and the creation of control measures.
Safety managers with operational experience can generate a hazard register. You probably already have a hazard register. Your aviation safety product may have come pre-configured with a hazard register, which is the result of the proactive hazard identification activities.
The message here is that simply because you have an aviation safety tool, or have gone through the entire SMS implementation does not guarantee long-term success. You actually have to use these tools and review processes.
Your aviation safety product may prove to be a short-term "silver bullet." However, if you don't use the tools as they were designed, or review the system, you can expect regulatory findings.
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published in 2016. It has been updated for timeliness.