Why #Policies Involved In Issues Charts Matter for Your Aviation SMS
Operational policies and procedures are the bureaucratic backbones to the success of every organization. The policies and procedures are the recipes or secret sauce that your company uses to deliver its product or service.
The purpose of every aviation safety management system (SMS), besides obviously improving levels of system safety, is to improve operational processes to a point where risk is mitigated as low as reasonably practical (ALARP). The most practical approach to achieve this goal is for the industry, as a whole, to adopt standards that manage risk in a formal, structured, proven risk management process.
As operators improve their operational processes, systemic risk is logically reduced. The most powerful approach to improve your processes in the shortest time possible is to actively and continuously monitor your policies and procedures.
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How to Easily Monitor and Improve Operational Processes?
When safety issues are reported in a timely fashion, it does not take long to determine where processes are failing. However, in order for this to happen, a thorough analysis must be conducted and the appropriate policies and procedures must be reviewed and revised as necessary. Finally, safety teams need the means to categorize and classify these safety issues according to the affected policies and procedures. These steps should be a part of the risk management process.
As time passes, your SMS database will have collected enough data points to detect trends and alert management of failing policies and procedures. Within a couple of years, your operational policies and procedures will be substantially improved and operational risk substantially reduced.
You may be telling yourself, "Yeah, this is great in theory." And then you'll scratch your head or chin and ask:
- How do I put this into practice?
- Where do I start?
- Can you give me an example?
Use Existing Tools to Extend Scope and Benefits of Aviation SMS
As every safety manager knows, the SMS implementation requires additional policies and procedures to define the SMS's scope and activities. Since this is an article about SMS Pro "Safety Charts," I'm assuming you are using SMS Pro or you are planning on using SMS Pro. However, you don't have to be an SMS Pro user to benefit from this article. You can use these techniques and processes even if you are using a spreadsheet SMS, or a home-grown SMS database.
In SMS Pro, there is a "Policies and Procedures Manager" module that allows all employees to see their organization's safety policies and procedures. The module also alerts managers whenever a policy requires review. There is no limitation for adding additional types of policies and procedures that may not necessarily be related to SMS activities. We often see the quality and operational policies and procedures used in this module.
I'm not suggesting running out and entering into the system every possible operational policy and procedure you may have in the company. This would be impractical and overwhelm users unless there was a good search feature. A quick, easy solution would be to add operational policies and procedures to the list as they are identified in reported safety issues.
Again, within a couple of years, you will have captured enough employee monitoring reports and audit findings to have identified the most pressing operational concerns. Notice that I did not say "most pressing safety concerns." This is a point I wish to make: this process should not be limited to simply safety concerns, as your organization's operational policies and procedures will become more refined and efficient if you extend your SMS' scope beyond the realm of safety, but also include:
- HR; and
- Operational issues.
The SMS implementation brings some solid risk management processes to your organization that you may not have practiced before implementing these SMS regulatory requirements. The smartest safety managers will be stressing this "low-hanging benefit" repeatedly in meetings with the accountable executive and the operational department heads.
Your aviation SMS' risk management processes will help the SMS become a profit driver for your organization. I'm delighted to see that several of you are realizing this and starting to use SMS Pro for more than safety concerns. This will become the way of the future, or the evolution of SMS as we see it. As industry experts have been preaching for many years, SMS will become the new way to do business and SMS will become an essential element in every aviation organization.
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Improving Operational Processes Incrementally
Within the aviation SMS, safety assurance (SA) activities monitor operations for:
- Defects or operational irregularities; and
- Potential hazards.
Whenever operational concerns are identified, including safety issues, the SMS is designed to:
- Recover from an event, when necessary;
- Mitigate existing threats; and
- Improve processes to prevent recurrence.
As management strives to improve processes, new policies, and procedures may be added to operations, or existing policies may be adapted to accommodate changing environmental conditions.
Affected policies and procedures are communicated to employees and incorporated into training materials whenever applicable. Monitoring continues.
As we can see, monitoring policies and procedures in an SMS is an important undertaking that both demonstrates
- continuous improvement of the SMS; and
- regular SMS performance monitoring.
The second point is especially important for the accountable executive who is responsible for ensuring the aviation SMS is properly implemented and performing in all areas of the organization. One of his responsibilities is to regularly review organizational safety performance and direct actions necessary to address substandard safety performance whenever it is detected.
As safety issues are managed in your risk management processes, one of the safety team activities is to classify safety issues for future trend analysis. Almost every operator using SMS Pro classifies their safety issues by:
- Type of Issue; and
- Associated Hazards from the Hazard Register.
A modest percentage also classify safety issues by:
- Root Cause; and
- Human Factors.
Yet the smallest percentage of operators effectively classify their safety issues by affected policies and procedures.
There is an opportunity for many safety managers to improve their risk management processes.
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Many of You Are Missing Out on an Easy Opportunity to Improve Processes
From our data analysis, five percent of operators regularly classify their reported safety issues according to affected policies and procedures.
Another 30% of operators try to practice this process, but only sporadically.
Based on this analysis, we see approximately 50% of operators not classifying their safety issues according to their policies and procedures. This is a missed opportunity to improve business processes in the shortest time possible. There is the assumption that you do have a performing safety reporting culture. Without a performant safety reporting culture, your risk management processes will lack the necessary fuel to improve business processes in the shortest time possible.
Moving SMS Beyond Safety Parameters to Operational Parameters
Risk management policies will be the hub for both prescriptive documentation as well as documentation specific to the aviation SMS. Yet there are opportunities that operators can capitalize on that extend beyond SMS documentation.
When operators extend the scope of SMS performance monitoring to include operational policies and procedures, this practice serves as a shortcut to optimizing business processes in the shortest time possible. Furthermore, the additional focus on operational policies and procedures shifts management's focus from conducting operations in a loose, haphazard way to a more structured approach that focuses on processes and the adherence to those documented processes.
Monitoring SMS Performance of Policies and Procedures
During safety audits, the adequacy, relevancy, and currency of your policies and procedures will be thoroughly analyzed. Policies and procedures will spell out the all-important elements of high-quality, risk management processes and mature safety culture like
- Roles and responsibilities in your aviation SMS;
- Policies on safety behavior (i.e. expectation of safety culture);
- Management’s commitments to safety;
- Employee protections from management for self-reporting errors and mistakes; and
- Reporting policies, such as non-punitive reporting and information about reporting safety issues.
Safety audits are one approach to determining the effectiveness of documented safety policies and procedures. Other means are available through the analysis of reported safety issues and monitoring of operational processes. As you practice refining your safety policies and procedures, this "practice" will prepare you for extending your SMS monitoring processes to include operational issues.
Safety Policy Influences Safety Behaviors
The everyday safety behaviors of employees will be significantly influenced by the quality of well-written policies. Of course, to be worthwhile and long-lasting, management will also have to publicly adhere to their policies regularly and track the quality and effectiveness of their implemented safety and operational policies.
Being able to monitor the success of policies in terms of stimulating safe, compliant safety behavior is extremely important for managers. Monitoring policy success is the best method (along with Auditing) that managers have. Yet most aviation SMS data management strategies overlook monitoring the effectiveness of safety policies and procedures on a regular basis. This fact may be due to:
- Lack of effective tools to monitor specific policies or procedures;
- Managerial oversight or ignorance;
- SMS' explicit focus on hazard identification and monitoring risk controls; or
- Simple apathy stemming from a "paper SMS" where management prefers to merely "check the SMS box."
This chart at the right is important because it helps safety managers monitor safety policies and procedures. In all fairness, management can (and should) expand the scope of SMS monitoring to include operational policies and procedures. This would be a "power-users" advanced SMS strategy. Have I mentioned this enough? Sometimes I'll repeat a particularly important point for those readers who are "skimmers," like me.
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If You Can't Measure It, You Can't Fix It
By learning how many policies or procedures are negatively associated with reported safety issues (or operational issues), management can quickly and easily identify which policies need to be modified or added to address the substandard performance for which these policies were meant to address. The alternative is rather disconcerting. How else can management directly and objectively measure the effectiveness of policies or procedures? It would be like slapping a band-aid on a cut every time, without addressing the root cause. Frighteningly enough, we all know operators who use this "risk management" style.
If you cannot identify the problem, you cannot measure it. If you cannot measure the problem, you cannot determine whether a problem exists. If you can't tell a problem exists, well, you get the picture. That is why it is so important to possess the capability in your risk management system to measure and monitor policies and procedures. Since SMS Pro comes with this tool, you have the capability to measure. What many safety teams are lacking is awareness of and education regarding this pro tip.
Safety managers are recommended to learn how this process works using "safety policies" that you have already loaded into your SMS database. Every portal has at least four to six policies and procedures. When you need to add more, this is not a problem. Every safety manager can add policies or procedures to the SMS database.
Once you understand the process, train operational department heads on your risk management workflow where you are classifying safety issues with affected safety policies or procedures. Since this quality-management approach affects the bottom line and improves operational efficiencies, it will be rare department head to give you a blank stare as you explain how the SMS's risk management processes can be used to improve operational processes.
Proper monitoring strategies for safety policies become increasingly important when management needs to make fact-based decisions regarding the effectiveness of a particular policy. When there are fact-based data behind the safety analysis, management gains assurance that their decisions are based not on mere hunches or speculation, but on historical safety performance.
One great example of how this chart is useful in the following example: say your Hazard Identification policy is adversely associated with safety issues on a semi-regular basis. This would be a great indication that there is a:
- Breakdown in the hazard identification process;
- Possible lack of communicating the policy;
- Missing piece(s) of information in the hazard identification policy; or
- Overlap in related policies that leads to confusion.
Through further investigation of each related safety issue in your aviation safety database, you should be able to identify the common problem that needs to be addressed in your processes.
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How This Chart Is Used in Aviation SMS
Aviation SMS policies for larger airports, airlines, and other operators – especially large ones – tend to be fairly extensive. In terms of data, this can be very hard to manage easily, let alone analyze for weaknesses.
But when we are talking about using that data in useful ways, not every policy needs to be monitored for weakness. Only policies that have associated safety or operational concerns need to be monitored because if a policy is not being monitored, it’s not yet a concern.
Because of this, the Associated Policies Chart is useful for
- Monitoring only relevant (suspect) policies and procedures; and
- Simplifying data analysis concerning policies; and
- Saving time during data analysis of policies.
What This Chart Reveals about Your SMS Implementation
What this chart reveals about your SMS depends on how the policies are being associated with your reported safety issues. Policies can be associated with safety issues because:
- An inadequate policy contributed to the manifestation of the safety issue; or
- No policy existed where one was needed.
With these points in mind:
- Which safety policies require the most attention; and
- Where additional policies are needed to maintain acceptable levels of safety?
How This Chart Is Created
This chart can be created easily if you are using integrated safety management software. Your aviation SMS database could simply:
- Filter only issues in which management associated with a particular policy or procedure;
- Then you could either view the pie chart or table graph that is generated automatically; or
- Filter your findings by a particular policy.
If you are using a spreadsheet, for every safety issue, add the name of the associated policy or procedure as you document your risk management activities. As time passes, you will be able to aggregate the data to create the above SMS performance monitoring chart.
Related Articles on Aviation Safety Performance Monitoring Charts
- Aviation Safety Chart: Monitoring Hazard Reporting Culture Per Division
- Safety Chart: Visually Presenting Aviation SMS KPIs - with Free KPI Resources
- How to Monitor Aviation SMS Performance - Safety Chart
Who Should Care about the #Policies Involved in Issues Chart?
This chart will be of special concern to aviation safety managers, who need to ensure that their policies are:
- Adequately implemented in the aviation SMS;
- Meet SMS requirements; and
- Are actually making operations safer.
Of course, the accountable executive should be reviewing these charts regularly to detect substandard safety performance. As you show the accountable executive this chart, there is an opportunity to describe how these risk management processes can be applied to refine operational processes.
For the five percent of operators who are classifying their issues according to affected policies and procedures, the operational department heads find these charts most useful. At a glance, any manager can see where the organization's pain points are.
Final Thought: Other Related Charts
The other chart that should be considered in conjunction with the #Policies Involved In Issues chart is the #Procedures Involved In Issues chart.
This chart pairs nicely with this chart because safety policies and procedures are often tightly interrelated. Being able to assess the effectiveness of both safety policies and safety procedures at the same will allow you to assess the overall effectiveness of your SMS bureaucratic efforts.
Last updated November 2023.