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What Is an Aviation Risk Management System?

Posted by Christopher Howell on Mar 1, 2019 6:00:00 AM Find me on:

Hazard Reporting Is Only the Beginning of Risk Management

What is an Aviation Risk Management Solution for airlines airports maintenance FBOs flight schools

Reporting hazards, incidents or accidents grabs considerable attention in every aviation safety and risk management system. Without reported data, safety managers would be unable to continuously improve systems' processes, which is a requirement in modern aviation safety management systems (SMS).

Before an "issue of concern" moves through the safety risk management process, the safety issue must be brought to the attention of a responsible manager, commonly called the safety manager or safety officer. Employees or other stakeholders identify potential hazards that may adversely affect operations. In response, these users report the safety concern proactively using the SMS' safety reporting system.

Alternatively, employees may submit an "issue of concern" reactively into the SMS' safety reporting system in response to:

  • accidents;
  • incidents;
  • irregularities and close calls.

Related Aviation Risk Management Articles

Safety officers analyze the reported safety issue, assess risk and determine which operational department head has risk acceptance authority in this area of operations. Safety managers may then shuffle the safety issue to the identified responsible manager, who is the manager with risk acceptance authority commensurate to the risk priority calculated by the safety team.

The responsible manager addresses risk mitigation strategies, which are commonly known as corrective actions and preventive actions (CPAs). Once all the CPAs have been completed and accepted by the responsible manager, safety managers review the reported safety issue to ensure all SMS documentation requirements have been processed according to the SMS manual's documented risk management processes.

Depending upon the severity and type of the reported safety issue, an in-depth investigation may be required to determine the root cause of the occurrence. In-depth safety investigations are commonly initiated by safety managers or department heads. Once all investigations have been completed, the safety team may either:

  • Generate a final report to management; and/or
  • Draft a "lessons learned" article documenting any lessons learned uncovered as a result of this reported safety event.

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Aviation SMS is System of Risk Management Processes

Before closing out a reported safety issue, safety managers must determine:

  • Do we need to review this issue in the future to verify effectiveness of newly implemented or modified risk controls?
  • Does the safety committee need to review this safety issue per policy?
  • Is all the SMS documentation in order before a final review is scheduled?

As we have seen, there are many steps to processing reported safety issues. The process takes longer to describe than what may actually occur in actual practice. For example, a minor incident or close call may require no further treatment, but simply "continued system monitoring." The total time to manage the reported safety issue may be 10 minutes or 10 hours. What is important is that there is a process to manage reported safety issues. What is also important is that all members of the safety team understand the risk management process and have the ability to follow these processes very quickly and efficiently.

When safety teams lack defined, well-documented risk management processes, there will be no consistency in managing reported safety concerns. For very small companies, this may not seem to be a major concern; however, the more safety managers participating in the risk management process, the greater the risk that issues will be not be managed according to SMS' best practices.

The SMS' risk management process contains repeatable, documented activities that must be performed for every reported safety issue or audit finding that enters the SMS. These processes save time and assure management that safety risk management processes are being performed to the "prescription" outlined in the SMS manual.

Companies with new and developing aviation SMS increase compliance by using risk management tools that follow ICAO, FAA, EASA, Transport Canada and regional regulatory requirements. These tools may be simply paper and spreadsheets, but generally are more sophisticated, such as:

  • In-house developed software systems from MS Access or SharePoint;
  • Modified point solutions, such as a help desk ticketing system;
  • Commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) SMS database solutions;
  • Single commercial point solutions; or 
  • Aggregated point solutions packaged and branded by a software aggregator.

SMS software is preferred to manage all SMS documentation requirements, especially for companies that have more than 40 employees or smaller companies with high employee turnover.

Related Aviation SMS Software Articles

Aviation Risk Management Processes Facilitated by SMS Software

Whenever accountable executives tells safety teams that SMS software is not required to manage all the aviation SMS' documented risk management processes, the manager does not understand the SMS requirements. Alternatively, the organization's goals and objectives may only require a "paper SMS," where the company is only interested in "checking the compliance box."

In most cases, aviation service providers are interested in:

  • regulatory SMS compliance; and
  • benefiting financially from their SMS investments.

To maximize efficiencies, SMS software is the recommended approach.

An aviation SMS software solution allows aviation service providers to efficiently:

  • Collect occurrence data;
  • Document and manage associated risk following standardized risk management processes;
  • Proactively identify and control hazards;
  • Monitor SMS performance;
  • Identify trends to mitigate risk to as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP);
  • Generate safety awareness among all stakeholders;
  • Promote the SMS to increase hazard identification and reporting activities;
  • Audit vendors, suppliers, contractors and internal processes; and
  • Track safety training;

Do you really know what makes up an aviation risk management solution? And why am I belaboring this topic?

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Safety Professionals Seeking Risk Management Guidance

Approximately 70% of safety professionals that contact us are looking for guidance materials on managing their required SMS implementations. Aviation SMS has a strong risk management component. Without a doubt, the safety risk management (SRM) component of an ICAO compliant SMS program receives the most attention from:

  • New safety managers;
  • Accountable executives; and
  • Department heads.

However, we must remember that the other three components are equally as important while implementing your SMS. For review, those other three SMS components are:

  • Safety Policy;
  • Safety Assurance (SA); and
  • Safety Promotion.

For those inexperienced safety professionals, safety assurance is the "System Performance" component of an SMS implementation. This is where employees and stakeholders are "monitoring" the system for any substandard safety performance.

An SMS is a system of processes and these processes have been grouped together under the "four pillars." Each pillar or component is important to the success of the SMS. An SMS would not be an SMS without all four pillars, just as an aircraft will not serve the intended purpose of providing transportation without one of it's major components, such as the engine or the landing gear assembly.

Related Articles on Four Pillars in Aviation SMS

Aviation Risk Management Systems Have Many Inter-Related Parts

When laymen think about risk management system for aviation service providers, they may think about accident and hazard reporting and possibly about managing corrective and preventive actions. But this paints an incomplete picture.

A risk management system considers all aspects of hazard management from "cradle to grave." This is one reason why the four pillars of an aviation SMS are so important.

Safety policy lays the foundation for the SMS' risk management processes and grants protection to employees for self-reporting. Management is committed to an SMS implementation, which is in stark contrast to traditional safety programs where management commitment and participation was neither expected nor required.

Safety risk management (SRM) is the systems' design. Systems are analyzed to ensure they are designed not only to be efficient from an operational standpoint, but also safe. Hazards, risks and risk controls are analyzed to ensure the system performs with risk managed to ALARP.

Safety assurance (SA) activities monitor the designed systems by stakeholders interfacing with these systems. When anomalies are detected, employees and stakeholders reports safety concerns, which prompt management to review the affected systems' design. Auditing is the second most important SA activity that is performed by

  • the organization performing self audits,
  • regulatory authorities for SMS compliance; and
  • clients requiring operator to demonstrate SMS capabilities per contract.

The image below comes from FAA's Document 120-92B. This is an excellent representation of how the SRM and SA processes interact in a performant SMS.

FAA SRM and SA processes diagram

For employees to participate in the SMS, they will need to be:

  • aware of the SMS and what is the purpose of the SMS;
  • trained in hazard identification and safety reporting processes; and
  • assured that management will not penalize employees for SMS participation.

Safety promotion activities belong to the fourth, and arguably the most important SMS pillar. Without safety promotion, there is no way for an operator to have a functioning SMS that can bring financial benefits. Without safety promotion, you will be left with a paper SMS at best, and "The Accident" at the worst.

Related Aviation Safety Promotion Articles

What Are Components of Aviation SMS

I don't want you to be disillusioned after seeing this quick outline. There are additional elements to add to your aviation SMS as your implementation matures, but the following will get you started nicely.

To view an aviation SMS' risk management system from the 30,000-foot level, let's dissect the system into individual pieces.

Aviation safety management systems (SMS) have a strong Risk Management component.

These pieces include:

  • Hazard reporting forms (or a way for reports to enter the "system")
  • Risk management functionality (assess risk & track corrective and preventive actions);
  • Proactive hazard identification and risk analysis tools affording regular review;
  • Hazard register;
  • Hazard trend identification tools;
  • Ad-hoc analytical reports (graphics or tabular); and
  • Safety promotion tools.

Each of these elements or "sub-systems" may have a different user group. For example, users reporting hazards, accidents or incidents using the safety reporting system may include:

  • Line-level employees;
  • Maintenance or facilities contractors;
  • Clients;
  • Airport tenants (if applicable); or
  • Suppliers.

User groups interacting with proactive hazard identification and risk management functionality of this system may include:

  • Safety managers;
  • Safety and quality training cadre;
  • Department heads;
  • Accountable executives; and certainly
  • Regulatory agency auditors.

It goes without saying that final reports are incredibly important in a risk management system to facilitate fact-based decision making processes. If you have ever had to create reports manually, you know how much time it takes if you must:

  • Collect data from multiple data sources;
  • Sort the data;
  • Filter data;
  • Format charts (colors, legends, fonts); and
  • Arrange the prepared charts in suitable format for management.

I know a safety manager from a medium sized operation who spent three weeks each year creating safety reports for upper management. All his other duties suffered during these three weeks. You can easily imagine how he suffered.

Trending charts and graphical reports allow managers from many different departments of your company to make informed decisions regarding strategies to minimize risk and reduce recurrence of accidents and incidents. Trending charts are particularly important for operators wishing to engage in predictive risk management processes. Trending charts are based on historical organizational performance to detect future behaviors.

Related Aviation Safety Trending Chart Articles

We intuitively recognize the important role hazard reporting takes in the risk management process, most notably in the safety assurance processes. Developing a healthy safety reporting culture requires a consistent and focused safety promotion program. User groups involved in safety promotion activities include:

  • Accountable executives (very important to be visible);
  • Department heads (showing support and contributing relevant content);
  • Safety managers (delivering safety messages); and
  • Employees (consuming safety promotion messages).

Download hazard reporting system checklist for aviation SMS

Final Thoughts on Risk Management Systems for Aviation SMS

So why am I writing about all these moving parts? Civil aviation authorities are great about telling you what is required to meet regulatory requirements; however, most CAAs allow the operator great flexibility how to address those requirements.

I'm hoping that you have either:

  • Learned something new from this blog article; or
  • Found this useful as a review of your SMS' risk management system; or
  • Discovered useful resources to promote your SMS.

I'm interested in hearing your feedback.

If you are spending too much time creating reports, or if your risk management processes needs a professional touch, give us a shout. The best SMS tools are those that can be used by the entire company, not just the safety team.

When you acquire an SMS software solution, you are acquiring risk management processes that have been developed by aviation safety professional for aviation safety professionals. Please watch these short demo videos below to learn whether SMS Pro can benefit your organization.

Since 2007, SMS Pro has been working with aviation safety professionals to address regulatory SMS requirements.

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Published March 2016. Last updated March 2019.

Topics: Risk Management Software

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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