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Understanding Proactive Hazard Management in Aviation SMS Programs

Posted by Christopher Howell on Dec 1, 2016 6:07:00 AM Find me on:

What is Proactive Hazard Management

Understanding Proactive Hazard Analysis Processes in Aviation SMS Programs at airlines and airports

I have a friend across the globe who is having troubles getting his head around proactive hazard management in his aviation safety management system (SMS). This friend naturally prompted this blog article to explain an approach to proactively managing hazards and to document hazard management analysis activities.

Proactive hazard management from a high level is looking at your operations and identifying hazards that may affect operations. The objective is to ensure adequate control measures are implemented to:

  • Prevent the hazard from manifesting itself into an unfavorable event;
  • Detect the hazard to alert operations; or
  • Correct the damage should the hazard manifest itself.

We are going to go through some key elements of proactively identifying and managing your hazards.

Aviation Risk Management One Bite At a Time

When you think of all the hazards that may affect your operations, the thought of documenting them all becomes overwhelming. This is a big task and you should not be doing all the work yourself.

One of the biggest risks to aviation SMS programs in their fifth to eighth year is that management is not reviewing their hazards on a regular basis. Perhaps I should restate this in that there may be no documented proof that management has adequately reviewed the hazards on a regular basis, whether it be quarterly or annually.

Again, documenting the proactive hazard management activities is a huge task. I always recommend that you break the task into manageable bites and delegate sections of this task to resident subject matter experts. Otherwise, you can expect an audit finding, guaranteed.

Hazard Register Is Output of Proactively Identifying Hazards

SMS auditors usually discover findings with operators' SMS programs in the later years regarding their hazard registers. The hazard register is a

Aviation risk management software makes proactive hazard analysis processes much simpler in medium to larger operations.jpg
  • list of all your hazards;
  • who is responsible for each hazard;
  • risk associated with the hazard;
  • date each hazard was reviewed;
  • next review date for each hazard; and
  • how many events you've experienced regarding this hazard.

The last point is optional if you have an SMS database that allows you to easily classify your events or issues according to an identified hazard. A bonus is to risk rank your hazards according to the importance of the hazard, as most hazards are seasonal.

What is an Operational Risk Profile

As we stated above, documenting the proactive hazard management activities is a huge task. For complex operations, it is best to break this task into major operational activities. For example, if you are an airline, your major activities include:

  • Flight operations;
  • Ground operations;
  • Maintenance;
  • Administration (including as safety and quality).

Airport operations' major activities revolver around:

  • Airside;
  • Ground-side;
  • Facilities;
  • Maintenance or Engineering.

These lists are not all-inclusive, but you definitely do not want to go too far into the weeds. Each type of operation has hazards and risks related to the type of operational activities. Grouping all hazards together according to the operation type allows you to focus on the elements. We have to eat this elephant "one-bite-at-a-time." Otherwise, you will become confused and overwhelmed.

Non-Complex Operations Have One Operational Risk Profile

Smaller, non-complex operations have only one operational risk profile. You will manage all your hazards in one bucket. You do not want to over-complicate matters.

One common strategy to segregate operations is by divisions in your company. Each division will have its own operational risk profile. Your aviation safety management system database may allow you to create divisions to logically segregate:

  • People (user-access); and
  • Data (reported issues).

In this case, you can have an operational risk profile for each division. After all, the hazards in the "maintenance division" are different from the hazards in "flight ops."

Some hazards may exist in both divisions. If so, there should be a person responsible in that division to manage that hazard. If there is not a dedicated person in the division to oversee the risk mitigation strategies of the hazard, their will be a manager from headquarters or someone who has their feet in both divisions.

Breaking Down Operational Risk Profiles

We took our first bite. If you are a complex operation, we have a dedicated operational risk profile (ORP) for your division. Let's start adding some structure to our ORP.

When organizing hazards in an ORP, I prefer to use an easy to follow, logical schema, as follows:

  1. Hazard Category;
  2. Hazard Sub-Category;
  3. Hazard; and 
  4. Control Measures.

For each hazard, you will be identifying risks or credible risk scenarios. For each of these risk scenarios, you will be documenting control measures to mitigate the risk. Again, control measures will be either:

  • Preventive;
  • Detective;
  • Corrective; or
  • Any combination of the above.

If you are a risk management rock star, you may also want to document the type of control measure according to the hierarchy of control. To review, your control measure will be one of the following types::


  1. Elimination;
  2. Substitution;
  3. Engineering;
  4. Administrative (policies); or
  5. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

The control hierarchy at the upper level (Elimination) is the most effective, with PPE being the least preferred.

Risk Management Software Saves You Time

In the early days, I have seen hazard registers in MS Excel. These are hard to update and too unwieldy to manage in the long term. Aviation risk management software will save you countless managing the hazard register and do a more effective task. 

Best practices will have your hazard register integrated with your classification schemes for classifying your reported issues, whether they be:

  • Safety;
  • Security;
  • Quality; 
  • Compliance; or 
  • Environmental.

If your company has more than 60 employees, aviation risk management software is a must. Otherwise, your SMS program will fail in the long term. Software to proactively identify and track hazards cannot be under-rated. This will save your bacon when the SMS auditors come calling when you are in Phase 3 or Phase 4 of your SMS implementation.

Documentation Highly Important in Managing Hazards Proactively

If it is not documented, then there is no proof you are proactively managing your hazards. This final take-away here is for safety managers.

You cannot manage the hazard register by yourself. If you try, you are either:

  • Doomed to fail; or
  • Very luck your SMS auditor is incompetent.

At the beginning of this process, explain to the accountable executive of the importance of the proactive hazard analysis process. Furthermore, stress that all operational department heads take part in the process.

If you distribute the documentation activities required in the hazard analysis, you are having a team eat the elephant. Your chances of long term success in this area of your SMS activity is increased tremendously. I always recommend to safety managers that they train the department heads how to identify and document their hazards in the company's aviation risk management software.

If you need software to identify, document and track your hazards, I recommend the Risk Management Solution or the Safety-Quality Assurance Solution. S-Q Solution has all the modules contained in the Risk Management Solution.

If you need a list of hazards to seed your hazard register, you may be interested in this list.

Hazard Register


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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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