Why Safety Management Gets Safety Objectives Wrong
Somewhat surprisingly, in aviation safety management systems (SMS), safety objectives are often quite misunderstood. Experienced safety management may have a slightly misguided understanding of safety objectives.
New safety management will simply ask, what are safety objectives? Do you know how to properly describe safety objectives?
Some of the most common errors made with safety objectives are:
- Not understanding relationship between safety goals, objectives, and KPIs;
- Not understanding how to properly write good safety objectives (i.e., using language that is either vague or not measurable); or
- Having too few or an unmanageable number of safety objectives.
Related Articles on Aviation SMS Goals and Objectives
- How to Create Safety Objectives in Aviation SMS with Examples
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- The Five Elements of ICAO's Safety Policy and Objectives in SMS
If you don’t have solid understanding of safety objectives, and therefore can’t properly create a suite of objectives, your safety performance monitoring will absolutely suffer. When safety performance is misguided, you will have a hard time making good safety decisions.
Accountable executives need access to safety objectives to monitor the performance of the SMS. Safety managers work for the accountable executive who is responsible for:
- Making sure the SMS is properly implemented and performing in all areas of the organization; and
- Regularly reviewing organizational safety performance and addressing substandard safety performance.
When accountable executives are unable to monitor the performance of their SMS, their risk for regulatory action increases. This is not how you want to manage your safety program.
What Are Safety Objectives in Aviation SMS
Safety objectives in aviation SMS are the criteria safety programs use to bridge the gap between the operational environment and safety goals and objectives. For any given period of time, safety objectives are also the basis for how safety programs measure safety performance.
In short, creating safety objectives is one of the most important tasks aviation safety mangers, safety committees, and/or safety teams will do. Some key attributes you should know about safety objectives are:
- They are built in response to safety goals (which are fairly static over time);
- Usually, an organization’s safety objectives are reviewed and updated on a yearly basis;
- They are the basis for developing key performance indicators (KPIs), also called safety performance indicators (SPIs); and
- Safety objectives are specific and measurable, and are usually written in single sentence form such as, “Increase hazard reporting 10% over previous year.”
The last point is an extremely – and I stress extremely – important. For one, it’s probably the most common area of safety objectives where safety managers make mistakes. Also, the better safety objectives are defined in sentence form, the better you will be able to:
- Demonstrate to auditors how your objectives tie into safety goals and objectives; and
- Create and track proper key performance indicators.
Related Articles on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in Aviation SMS
- What Is a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) in Aviation SMS?
- How to Set and Monitor Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in Existing SMS
- How to Automate Key Performance Indicator KPI Monitoring
Here’s how to create proper safety objectives.
How Safety Objectives Are Created
Creating safety objectives is done in response to organizational safety goals and objectives. Safety goals are general, high level things your organization would like to accomplish, such as:
- “Develop a hazard reporting culture.”
Each safety goal will have multiple safety objectives that allow your organization to account for each goal. In the case of our example goal, some objectives to account for it:
- Increase hazard reporting 10% over previous year;
- Reduce average day for hazard reporting for new employees to less than 14 days;
- Train at least 95% of employees on hazard identification; and
- Reduce distribution of high risk issues by 10%.
These objectives ground the safety goal in the operational environment. They are specific and easily measurable. Some safety goals may have a handful of objectives, and some safety goals will only have one or two objectives.
Difference between Safety Goals and Objectives
Let’s briefly look at the difference between safety goals and objectives in a bit more detail. As said in the section above, safety goals are:
- High level, general areas of safety that your organization would like to reach;
- Updated seldom, such as minor updates on a yearly or biennially; and
- Will touch on every level of your safety program, from risk management to safety promotion.
In contrast, safety objectives are:
- Low level, specific areas of safety that your program would like to reach;
- Updated often, such as semi-annually or yearly, with major updates or overhauls (i.e., organizations will commonly have different objectives each year); and
- Each objective is in response to a specific, single goal.
Related Articles on Monitoring Aviation Safety Goals
- How to Maintain Monthly Aviation SMS Hazard Reporting Goals
- 3 Goal-Setting Tips for Aviation Key Performance Indicators - with Free KPI Resources
- How to Be Compliant with ICAO Safety Performance Monitoring and Measurement
A good way of understanding the relationship between safety goals and objectives is that a safety goal is a parent to multiple safety objective children.
Examples of Safety Objectives in Aviation Safety
Some examples of common safety objectives that can help you build your own objectives are the following – simply substitute a number where “X” is listed:
- Increase hazard reporting by X% over previous year.
- Decrease average time for closing high risk issues by X number days over previous year;
- Decrease number of internal audit findings by X number over previous year;
- Hold X number of safety meetings;
- Having average meeting attendance rate of X number;
- Increase number of employees who have received all available training by X%;
- Reduce number of fatigue incidents by X%;
- Increase average score of safety culture survey by X%; and
- Increase number of control measures by X%.
There are many more objectives beyond this, but hopefully this list should give you a good idea of what specific and measurable looks like. You might compare the list above to less effective objectives, which are either NOT measurable or specific like:
- Hold proper number of meetings to facilitate safety;
- Involve employees more in decision making; and
- Improve risk management efficiency.
Objectives such as these are either too vague to be measurable, or are a kind of objective which is impossible to measure.
Final Thought: How Safety Objectives Are Measured
The last thing you need to understand is how safety objectives are measured. If you have created quality safety objectives (i.e., specific and measurable), then monitoring those objectives is easy. You simply need to:
- Create a KPI for each objective;
- Figure out how you are going to acquire KPI for that data; and
- Ensure that you are actually monitoring that KPI.
With aviation risk management software, these are tracked automatically for you. With manual systems such as Excel, you will need to make sure that you update your KPI spreadsheet as you acquire data or analyze data.
At the end of the year, you can review your KPIs, and update your objectives as needed based on how well you achieved success/failure for meeting each objective.
Obviously, spreadsheets are more prone to neglect and error than monitoring safety objectives from an SMS database. Managing an aviation SMS also appears more professional than a spreadsheet. To me, spreadsheets seem like a "home job." In order for the accountable executive to demonstrate continuous improvement of the SMS, your company will need effective tools and processes to undertake safety performance monitoring and measurement activities.
If I were the accountable executive, I would prefer to have some assurance that I could meet my responsibilities. I would want a commercially available SMS database that manages all the SMS requirements instead of a point solution or an Excel spreadsheet. I just don't place much trust in spreadsheets, especially when you consider all the SMS documentation requirements.
Do you need tools to create and monitor your SMS objectives? We can help.
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For a great list of KPIs that can help inform the kind of objectives you should have in your company, please download the following lists:
Published August 2017. Last updated November 2019.