Importance of Hazard Categories in Aviation SMS
Aviation safety charts gather and present aviation safety management system (SMS) information to stakeholders. Stakeholders use this visually rich information to make informed, fact-based decisions about SMS and organizational performance.
A popular idiom is "A picture can speak a thousand words." This saying implies that a picture, or chart in our case, can convey complex information more quickly and effectively than attempting to describe the chart's meaning in words.
If a chart can speak a thousand words, what will five or ten related charts on a page be able to convey? The hazard categories chart we discuss in this article belongs to an SMS performance monitoring dashboard, and it speaks volumes when coupled with complementary charts! Management can quickly see which hazards affect operations and hopefully determine:
- Where hazards affect operations?
- How are hazards affecting operations in terms of operational areas and severity?
- Why do hazards affect operations?
- When are particular hazards most common?
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Performance monitoring dashboards that provide insight into organizational hazards become incredibly effective tools for management to quickly review relevant operational risks in real time. For example, dashboard charts provide management with the required information to
- address substandard safety performance in a timely manner;
- determine whether safety promotion activities are effective in mitigating risk associated with hazards;
- learn which employees require additional hazard identification training; and
- stay informed of developing hazard trends.
Let's review and analyze a sample “Hazard Categories” chart. This type of risk analysis chart should be a mainstay in every SMS data analysis arsenal regardless of which aviation SMS software is being used. To be most efficient, any SMS performance monitoring chart should be connected to a live SMS database with pre-configured settings with the option to adjust input variables, such as a date range or affected area of operations.
Hazard Categories chart breaks down hazards and related safety concerns by their type – in other words, which hazards are related to your organization's reported safety issues and audit findings.
This chart at the right is extremely versatile. This becomes evident when one considers the decision-making value when used broadly, as well as specifically, to make decisions about where to focus time and energy in your risk management activities. This chart has the power to tell you a lot about your organization's:
- Risks; and
- Effectiveness of risk controls.
An aviation SMS becoming “self-aware” is the first step to developing a more mature, more proactive, and healthier safety culture. A chart with the top hazards affecting your company communicates this awareness to all employees who have access to this risk analysis chart.
As a safety promotion tool, this top hazards chart becomes exceptionally useful for increasing hazard awareness among line-level employees. For many years, we've seen this common safety chart displayed in monthly SMS newsletters.
Performance monitoring dashboards in aviation SMS databases are very flexible safety promotion tools, as well as great decision-making tools for managers. Permission to access data sets can be set at a very granular level, so while the above chart is useful for management to make decisions using real-time data, this chart can also be displayed to users in a "permissions controlled monitoring dashboard" that has greater utility across the organization.
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Unique Needs Based on Unique Hazards and Operating Parameters
Every aviation SMS is unique based on a combination of multiple factors, including
- organizational goals and objectives;
- organizational safety goals and safety objectives;
- hazards affecting operational areas based on industry segment type and region;
- operating budget; and
- risk tolerance.
Some organizations will struggle most with Human Factor related issues, while others with environmental-based factors. Hazard categories, when looked at as a whole, show valuable data trends for safety reporting and audit findings within an aviation SMS. In our example chart above, we can see that 4 of the 5 top hazard categories are Human Factors-related.
The chart also sheds some light on more specific, hazard-related concerns of an aviation SMS. It is useful for suggesting which type of aviation risk management tools would be most helpful for improving risk mitigation strategies. In our example chart above we might take the fact that because a majority of the issues are fatigue-related hazards, our policies regarding working hours, break times, etc. should be reviewed.
On the other hand, a lack of safety reporting numbers for certain hazard categories may also be an indicator of under-reporting. So in many ways, hazard categories provide valuable data on organizational behavior to focus on, as well as trends in safety monitoring and subsequent safety reporting (or lack thereof).
What Hazard Categories Reveal about Aviation Safety Reporting
Tendencies or safety trends are the main concern when it comes to hazard categories because they help answer the question: what kind of hazard reporting culture is in the aviation SMS?
As said, hazard categories help expose safety issues and reporting tendencies on 3 levels:
- The general level of safety trends in the aviation SMS
- Specific safety issue categories
- Reporting habits (or lack of)
In Alaska, for example, I would expect to see a hazard-reporting culture that tends to focus on environmental-related issues. In other places, such as metropolitan areas, issues associated with security may be reported more often.
While hazard categories can reveal positive tendencies in what types of hazards an organization tends to associate with reported safety issues, management may feel that certain hazard categories associated with safety issues are being under-associated as well, which would be a negative tendency. To display the full range of data for exploring under-associated hazards, the full data result set would have to be available in more sophisticated data analysis tools.
In short, where there are tendencies, there are also safety priorities. It will be up to each organization to set its priorities based on the positive and negative reporting tendencies of different types (categories) of safety issues.
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Things to Watch Out For
Keep in mind when you are analyzing your hazard categories that some hazard categories are heavily invested in one another. For example, Fatigue and Distraction often go hand in hand, and in our chart example above, both categories are the first and third most prevalent hazards associated with reported safety issues and audit findings.
Such trends are what I call compounded hazard categories. In charts that show heavily compounded hazard categories, it could be an indication that risk controls are not adequately mitigating certain hazards – i.e. the assumption is that if a risk control is adequately mitigating risk, their “Hazard Categories” chart would not be so one-sided.
Ideally, an aviation SMS would want to see an even dispersal of various, similar (compounded) categories.
How to Tabulate Hazard Category Data
If you have (or want to create) a “Hazard Categories” chart for your SMS performance monitoring dashboard, there are some basic assumptions. For starters, the hazards must be completely configurable based on your type of operation and have the ability to change based on environmental changes.
For example, hazards used in the classification of safety issues can be managed in an integrated hazard-risk register. Most aviation service providers using an SMS database have a tool that;
- creates a logical hierarchy of hazards;
- allows management to document hazard related consequences;
- performs risk assessments; and
- documents and monitors the effectiveness of risk controls.
Below is a screenshot of an SMS Pro hazard analysis tool used to itemize hazards and their associated control measures. A modern, aviation SMS database will allow safety teams to easily classify safety issues based on associated hazards.
Accurately identifying appropriate hazard types will take research, analysis, and time in each aviation SMS. This is not an exercise for just the safety team, but all experienced operations managers. After all, operations managers understand the hazards and associated risks of their respective operations better than anyone else in the company.
Once you have a list of operational hazards, safety managers have the option of easily associating safety issues with identified hazards as each reported safety issue enters the risk management process.
Mature safety programs have hazard categories that are extremely relevant and are regularly reviewed during safety risk management (SRM) and safety assurance (SA) activities. Reviewing these hazard categories becomes necessary when reviewing organizational safety goals and objectives.
Safety goals and objectives are tied to Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). It is only natural that the more salient hazards be flagged and monitored along with the other organizational KPIs. An SMS database performs this task very easily and allows for efficient integrations across multiple data points and organizational areas.
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How Does This Data Relate to SMS Requirements
Hazard Categories chart is all about aviation Safety Assurance. Those already very familiar with ICAO's four SMS pillars recognize this graph's purpose lies in safety performance monitoring or continuous monitoring.
On a subtler note, because hazard categories help aviation SMS narrow their focus on certain hazard types and bring awareness to the organization as a whole, they can also be valuable for Safety Promotion.
Who Should Care About This Chart
Directly, the “Hazard Categories” chart relates to upper management who are:
- Looking broadly at the trends in types of hazards affecting their company
- Analyzing areas to focus on moving from reactive to proactive risk management
- Seeing what specific hazard types affect the organization the most at this point in time
Of course, while the chart is most specific to upper management, anyone involved in the SMS should have an idea of what types of hazards to be on the lookout for. Being aware of the fact that one type of hazard is the most common can be the difference between recognizing the early signs of a potential safety issue and mitigating it or not.
Final Thought: Related Charts
“Hazard Categories” chart is highly relevant to three other safety performance monitoring charts that you may have or want to create:
- Issues By Department
- Root Causes
- Types of Issues
Taking all of them in tandem can give a complete picture of the organization:
- safety issue and hazard trends,
- operational exposure, and
- insight into the best road for proactive risk management.
An aviation SMS database has all the features to manage a compliant SMS. SMS Pro assures management that the SMS is being managed according to industry best practices.
Learn how your organization can benefit from an industry-accepted SMS database. Since 2007, SMS Pro has been working with the aviation industry to comply with ICAO's SMS requirements. SMS Pro is offered only to the aviation industry. This assures you that our risk management workflows align with what is expected from SMS auditors.
Last updated in November 2023.