SMS Pro Aviation Safety Software Blog 4 Airlines & Airports

What is a Risk Event in Aviation Risk Management and Why You Should be Using It

Posted by Tyler Britton on Feb 6, 2017 6:08:00 AM

Difference Between Risk and Risk Event

What is risk events in risk managementA couple of months ago we released a Hazard and Risk Competency Quiz, which deals a lot with the concept of Risk Events. Overall the assessment – which was purposefully very difficult – was very successful.

We received a lot of feedback about Risk Events, and for the most part aviation safety managers fall into 3 categories concerning Risk Events. If you are familiar with the assessment, which category do you fall into?

  • Unfamiliar with “Risk Event” but thought it was interesting;
  • Found the concept and use of “Risk Event” very helpful in risk management activities; or
  • Disagreed with the use of “risk”, citing traditional definitions of risk as an argument.

“Risk Event” and “risk” in general are not the same thing. Risk is:

  • A conceptual element of aviation safety management;
  • Has an undeniable subjective element;
  • Used to understand exposure through likelihood and severity of the situation; and
  • Is not associated with a specific part of the flow of events in a safety issue.

Conversely, a Risk Event is:

  • Defined by some kind of action, rather than a concept;
  • Is partially subjective;
  • Is a specific, identifiable part of the flow of events in a safety issue;
  • Is the middle point between proactive actions/controls and reactive actions/controls; and
  • Used to understand where in a safety event the failure occurred.

The practical difference between risk and Risk Events is that Risk Event has a specific use in risk management activities. Risk does not have a specific use, but is something that every SMS program needs to define, as it will broadly influence all risk management activities.  

What is a Risk Event in Aviation Risk Management

A Risk Event in aviation SMS programs can be summarized by the following points:

  • It is the point in the flow of safety events at which, “safety control is compromised/lost”;
  • Is the point after which employees need to react in order to regain safety control;
  • Is a single event (there is only one Risk Event per safety issue);
  • Arises from a single hazard or a combination of hazards which become dangerous;
  • Is the middle point in-between proactive risk management and reactive risk management; and
  • Is synonymous to the Top Event used in bowtie analysis.

With a little practice, it’s easy to become familiar with Risk Events. As said, there is some subjectivity involved, as “the point at which safety control is lost” may appear slightly different to different safety professionals.

Surprisingly often, however, the Risk Event will be ubiquitously agreed upon.

Examples of Risk Events

A Risk Event is something you would identifying during risk analysis. Some good examples of “Risk Events” are:

  • Flying too close to a flock of birds (however you define “close” to be), because pilots need to react immediately;
  • Crossing the hold short line on a runway (runway incursion), as pilots will need to take immediate action to get off of the runway;
  • Losing servers (internet) in an airport; or
  • Losing control of a ground operations vehicle.

You will notice that a Risk Event is not when the undesirable event happens, such as hitting the birds, rolling the ground ops vehicle, or a near miss on the runway.

  • Undesirable events should be associated with consequences and impacts that arise from a Risk Event

What is the Flow of Safety Events?

If the concept and application of “flow of safety events” is not clear, it’s hard to understand what a Risk Event is and why it is extremely useful. Below is a graphic which describes the origin and conclusion of a safety event.

Flow of safety events in aviation risk management

Incidentally, the purpose of bowtie analysis is to capture the flow of safety events, such as shown above. Whereas a bowtie commonly lists a “Top Event”, Risk Event might be more to the point.

Risk Event in flow of safety event

In any case, Top Events are isolated to being used in bowtie analysis, whereas a risk event can be used in any risk management activity.

Why Is Risk Event Important

It’s important to understand what a Risk Event is because it gives:

  • Employees a specific, tangible moment/event/action to try and avoid during operations;
  • Employees an opportunity to react quicker should they recognize a risk event as it unfolds in operations;
  • Managers an “waypoint” during risk analysis;
  • Managers a reference point for defining proactive risk management activities and reactive risk management activities; and
  • Makes separation of proactive and reactive risk controls clearer, and more manageable.

The other reason Risk Events are important is because they can be used in any number of risk management activities, such as:

  • In fishbone diagrams – it will be the “head” of the fish;
  • In risk assessments – it will be used to assess the severity of potential impacts which arise from the risk event and the likelihood of the risk event happening in the future;
  • In bowtie analysis – it will be your Top Event;
  • In general risk management activities, such as defining proactive/reactive risk management operations; and
  • In aviation safety training.

Final Thought: More Resources on Risk Events

There are several good resources that provide regarding Risk Events. For more information, see the following resources:

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Topics: 2-Safety Risk Management

 

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