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Essential KPIs for Poor Hazard Reporting Cultures in Aviation SMS - with Free KPI Resources

Posted by Christopher Howell on Mar 19, 2019 6:00:00 AM Find me on:

Key Performance Indicators Are Hottest Topic for SMS Programs

Essential KPIs for Poor Hazard Reporting Cultures in Aviation SMS at Airlines, Airports, and Maintenance Organizations

Without a doubt, key performance indicators (KPIs) have been on the minds of more aviation safety professionals for the past five years than any other single aviation safety topic. These KPIs cover a wide scope of business operations, such as:

  • Safety;
  • Quality;
  • Financial; and
  • Production activities.

We check Web statistics daily to see which top topics attract aviation safety professionals. Without fail, safety KPIs are at the top of the list. If you have been participating, you will have seen that we also ask you to share your top KPIs when you download a KPI checklist.

For new aviation SMS implementations or operators with poor hazard reporting cultures, KPIs from these lists should not be your primary focus. I believe you should have a different set of KPIs that will direct your company's energy in the proper direction.

Improving safety reporting numbers should become the main goal for the majority of SMS implementations that are at Phase 2 or higher.

Related Articles on Aviation SMS Key Performance Indicators

Hazard Reporting Drives Continuous Improvement in Aviation SMS

In order to demonstrate continuous improvement, aviation SMS implementations need to constantly identify hazards and report safety concerns. Hopefully, hazards are reported before the organization suffers from a major event. Safety reports and safety audits provide the fuel to drive SMS's continuous improvement.

KPIs are used to monitor SMS activities that indicate organizational weaknesses. Some KPIs may focus on the organizational goal of improving safety reporting performance. One could easily argue that 90% of operators should select at least three or four KPIs that demonstrate the organization's safety reporting system health.

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When employees submit safety reports, management is alerted that organizational risk may not be as low as reasonably practical (ALARP). Safety reports provide management with the opportunity to fix processes and the system design before a major accident occurs. This is why safety reporting is so very important to the success of SMS implementation.

Consider the image below that simplistically illustrates the interaction of safety risk management (SRM) processes with those of the safety assurance (SA) processes. The "Data Acquisition" process illustrated under the SA side is a result of system monitoring. System monitoring is predominantly practiced by line-level employees and quality assurance auditors (QA). Line-level employees and other stakeholders are reporting safety concerns while the QA teams ensure that the organization is compliant with regulatory requirements.

FAA SRM and SA processes diagram

When the "Data Acquisition" functions are underperforming, SMS performance will also remain underperforming. Again, this illustrates the importance of healthy safety reporting cultures. Substandard safety reporting performance "chokes" an SMS' ability to manage risk as the system has been designed.

SMS' processes are sound. But in order to benefit from the SMS implementation, safety reporting activities must support safety assurance's risk management processes.

Related Articles on Aviation SMS Key Performance Indicators

Tracking & Monitoring Aviation Safety KPIs

You may have a very elaborate list of KPIs. You may have spent hours generating the list and getting acceptance from other managers that these are the areas that your company needs to focus on for a specific, "future" time period.

KPIs are great because:

  • KPIs offer direction.
  • KPIs keep you focused.
  • KPIs keep your company focused on what is important.

KPIs are the scorecards that employees and stakeholders quickly view to see the game score. Of course, the "game score" is your company's SMS performance regarding a specific "area of interest."

However, KPIs are worthless unless you have the means to easily track and monitor the data. You are not going to have an effective KPI strategy if you have to work hard to:

  • capture the data;
  • set KPIs;
  • collate the data; and
  • generate meaningful reports based on SMS performance.

We will discuss this shortly.

KPIs Best Practices Quiz

Aviation Safety KPIs for New SMS Implementations

Chances are, your company is like most others regarding the road map you will follow for your SMS implementation. If you are just starting the aviation SMS implementation and you are either in Phase 1 or Phase 2, you will certainly have a different set of KPIs than operators who have matured to Phase 3 or Phase 4.

Organizational safety goals change over time; therefore, it is natural to assume your KPIs will also change. One of the biggest challenges faced by new safety managers is that they put their KPI list together as if they were preparing for a college capstone project. Their list needs to be perfect.

Please don't waste time believing your KPI list must be correct, beautiful, and "above reproach." There may never be one correct answer for selecting KPIs, except that they must reflect the organization's safety goals and objectives. Your list of KPIs may become obsolete within a few months, or as the organization changes its safety focus.

Don't expect to implement your SMS in a few months. Most companies will need three to five years. Why does it take so long? The answer is simple: Resistance to change.

Employees don't want to change their behaviors and we seldom adopt change when the oceans are calm. Major events are commonly required before we begin to accept the idea that change must come.

New SMS implementations should have KPIs that track and monitor employee behaviors in the first two phases of SMS implementation. If you are not certain which SMS implementation phase you are in, you may consider quickly assessing your SMS implementation using one of the following SMS assessment tools:

When selecting one of the assessments above, select one level below your anticipated SMS level. For example, if you think you are on Phase 3, then first select the Phase 2 SMS implementation assessment.

Hazard/Issue Reporting Poster

If your SMS implementation is in Phases 1 or 2, here are some suggested KPIs for new SMS implementations:

  • Number of employees inducted into SMS program (initial reactive risk management training);
  • Number of reported issues;
  • Average number of reported issues per employee;
  • Average number of reported issues by employee group (managers vs line level employees);
  • Number of times each employee logged into the safety program;
  • Percentage of safety messages read on time;
  • Number of safety newsletters published;
  • Percentage of safety-related tasks completed on time.

This list could go on, but you should choose only those items that you are experiencing trouble with. A common error we see with safety managers setting KPIs is that they choose too many variables to efficiently monitor. When you have too many KPIs, you lose focus, thereby diluting the effectiveness of your KPI strategy.

Related Articles on Aviation SMS Key Performance Indicators

KPIs for Poor Safety Reporting Cultures

Safety managers must be consistent with tracking and monitoring safety KPIs in order to achieve results

Eighty percent of you have very poor safety reporting cultures. Best practices for hazard identification and safety reporting metrics suggest that you should be monthly receiving one reported issue for every ten employees.

If you don't have a good safety reporting culture, don't throw up your arms and say, "Well boss, I tried, but nobody is really interested in your safety program."

Poor hazard reporting cultures require persistence and follow-up!

When operators have substandard safety reporting metrics, you will need to consistently monitor employee participation. Nobody likes to be monitored, but this will be considered a short-term SA strategy.

Are employees participating in the SMS? If not, why not? Are department heads telling employees not to report hazards (I've seen this before)?.

Is it too difficult for employees to report accidents, incidents, and potential safety hazards?

I was talking to a Prism user yesterday and he could not figure out how to submit an issue into their safety reporting system. He asked his boss (the CEO) to try submitting a safety issue. He couldn't figure it out, so he asked his assistant for "assistance." Together, they were unable to submit a safety issue. To me, this is a big red flag in any SMS.

KPIs for poor hazard reporting cultures may include:

  • How many times does each user login to the safety program each (you choose the time period);
  • How many safety issues do this user report?
  • What is the average number of logins and reported safety issues per user?
  • How many employees have reviewed the safety policy this year?
  • How many employees have reviewed their duties & responsibilities to the safety program?

The main points for selecting safety reporting KPIs include:

  • Keep it simple;
  • Keep it easy to track; and most importantly;
  • Ensure employees know you are tracking their safety performance.

Poor hazard reporting cultures require a firm hand.

I've worked with literally several hundreds of airlines, airports, and maintenance organizations. Most safety professionals did not come to work to be "babysitters" or "hallway monitors." However, in order for your safety culture to improve, many employees will refuse to participate unless there is something in it for them! This "pay value" doesn't necessarily have to be positive for the employee. Negative pay values (incentives) are also effective. Negative incentives may be:

  • No opportunity for career advancement for lack of SMS participation;
  • No salary increases; or
  • Removing benefits.

Nobody likes to think of implementing negative incentives, but when a safety culture is not performing, drastic measures may be required.

An SMS motivation strategy does not need to be all "carrot" and no "stick." Judiciously using the stick serves as an effective motivator. If you need proof, consider a traffic fine for speeding. The traffic fine serves as a negative incentive to dissuade undesirable behavior. Traffic fines work, but only when there is adequate enforcement. If you have no way to monitor employee behavior, then your negative incentive strategy may need some "creativity."

Related Articles on Aviation SMS Key Performance Indicators

How to Track KPIs for Aviation SMS Participation

Let's face it. A spreadsheet will not work here to track employees' SMS activities. SharePoint will not work here unless you have a developer to customize the system (which we can do if needed). To effortlessly track and monitor KPIs for your SMS implementation, you will need a database.

There are many low-cost, commercially available aviation SMS databases on the market, but in order to track KPIs in a database, you will need:

  • A way to easily set meaningful KPIs;
  • An easy way to set goals and objectives for KPIs;
  • An easy way to monitor safety goals; and
  • User-friendly reporting tools, such as SMS performance monitoring dashboards.

In my opinion, your KPI tracking tools should not be used solely by the safety managers, but by all managers. Some companies use "safety program participation" as a required marker for career advancement and salary increases.

Finally, a best practice is that employees should be able to see their progress and level of participation in your SMS. Nobody likes surprises; therefore, your safety tools should offer employees a degree of

  • transparency;
  • security; and
  • confidentiality.

Download Aviation KPIs Resources

Final Thoughts on KPIs for Poor Safety Reporting Cultures

KPI Dashboards allow easy KPI monitoring and tacking by all managers in the aviation organization

If your company has poor hazard identification activity and a substandard safety reporting culture, don't become disillusioned with the process. There are some techniques available to turn your company around and improve safety reporting metrics. This is not a quick fix, but you will require:

  • Proper tools;
  • Consistency; and
  • Top management support.

Good luck.

Most aviation safety managers are dedicated, hard-working professionals with very good intentions. It pains us to see you frustrated that you:

  • Have poor safety reporting cultures; or
  • Are unable to get managers to participate in your SMS implementation.

We can help. Monitoring employee safety performance can turn your aviation SMS around.

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Last updated October 2023.

Topics: 3-Safety Assurance

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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