SMS Pro Aviation Safety Software Blog 4 Airlines & Airports

How to Make Safety Reporting Forms for Aviation SMS - with Resources

Posted by Christopher Howell on Nov 8, 2018 10:00:00 AM Find me on:

Why Use Hazard Reporting Forms in Aviation Safety Programs?

How to Make Safety Reporting Forms for Aviation SMS - with Resources

Web-based hazard reporting templates or forms are key to the healthy performance of aviation safety management systems (SMS). Safety cultures depend on well-designed, user-friendly tools to report and manage reported safety concerns.

Without user-friendly safety reporting forms, there are only a few other options for safety managers to receive hazard and safety reports from

  • employees,
  • customers,
  • suppliers and
  • other stakeholders.

Besides Web-based reporting forms, other safety reporting options may include:

  • Email;
  • Paper-based reports;
  • Phone transcription services to automate report entry into the database;
  • Telephone reports to safety managers; and
  • Face-to-face verbal reporting.

As you can see, these options are not ideal.

Related Articles on Aviation Safety Reporting

Most Popular Safety Reporting Options

The most convenient way to report safety concerns is by using email hazard reporting options. In this case, your SMS will need moderately sophisticated hazard-reporting software.

The typical workflow for email safety reporting is that the SMS database "pulls" emails from an IMAP-configured email account into a centralized database program. For readers wanting to know how to do this in your aviation SMS, these are small details:

How email reporting works is that your SMS database uses "scheduled tasks" to read the configured safety email account at predefined time periods, such as every five minutes. Whenever the "scheduled task" discovers a new message, the task pulls the new email into the SMS database and notifies configured safety team members of the new safety report entering the risk management system.

A shortcoming with using email to obtain safety reports is that data acquisition elements are limited to:

  • Reporters' email addresses;
  • Subject;
  • Body; and
  • Attachments.

If you need more sophisticated data-gathering techniques, then you should opt for flexible Web forms that are designed to capture specific data elements needed to initiate risk management processes.

Hazard/Issue Reporting Poster

Email reporting is very easy since no special tools or SMS database access is required for users to submit safety reports. Email safety reporting is best used for:

  • Contractors;
  • Vendors;
  • Airport tenants;
  • Customers; and
  • Employees that don't have access to the SMS database.

Email safety reporting is preferred over paper-based reporting methods. You cannot rely on all stakeholders having access to paper-based reporting forms. What you "can" count on is that most people today have emails and a way to send emails.

You should not rely solely on email safety reporting for the SMS; however, it perfectly supplements your main method of receiving safety reports. Email reporting is the most convenient reporting method for stakeholders and "convenience" is a good thing when you consider the alternatives to having long, unfriendly reporting forms that tarnish your safety culture.

Related Articles on Aviation Safety Reporting

Web-Based Safety Reporting Forms in Aviation SMS

Barring email reporting, safety reporting forms on the web come in handy when employees want to submit safety reports relating to

  • Seemingly unmitigated hazards;
  • Failing or ineffective risk controls;
  • Actual events (accidents, incidents, and irregularities);
  • Quality issues;
  • HR issues;
  • Security concerns;
  • Regulatory compliance issues.

In these next sections, we will discuss hazard reporting form design principles that safety managers MUST consider when burdening employees and stakeholders with poorly designed reporting forms. We will show how properly designed reporting forms will increase employee participation in aviation SMS programs and increase acceptance of the SMS.

One of the biggest deterrents to developing positive safety cultures is a reporting form that makes an employee wince inwardly. I have been there, and so have you. Imagine the time when you go to a doctor's office or the hospital and they hand you a form that spans several pages. How do you feel? Employees feel the same way when they look at reporting forms used by regulatory agencies. I'm certain they feel:

  • Frustration;
  • Anxiety;
  • Overwhelmed;
  • Time-pressured; or
  • Exasperated.

In most cases, the employees simply want to tell you what happened. Their mindset is:

"Hey boss, I'm acting in good faith here and fulfilling my SMS responsibility. I saw something that may concern management."

And when they see most reporting forms, they think:

"What in the hell is this? OK, I'll do this once, but don't expect me to go through all this work the next time."

Any safety manager can see that this scenario is both realistic and you may have experienced it yourself. Safety culture is damaged by poor reporting-form design. Are safety reporting forms hurting your safety culture?

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Why Safety Managers Need to Learn about Hazard Reporting Design?

We are routinely asked to create custom hazard reporting forms that integrate with operators' aviation SMS database. In most cases, these custom reporting forms were designed by safety managers who want to capture every possible data point imaginable. Poor hazard reporting culture is often the result.

Without fail, safety managers justify these long, complicated reporting forms with:

I don't want to keep going back and forth with the reporter for more information.

Sound familiar? What you are saying is that you either don't care about your safety culture, or you have not given any thought as to how your 300 field safety reporting form affects safety culture.

Put another way, safety managers are saying:

I'd rather make it easier for my safety team to do their job and let the employees/stakeholders suffer from abusive reporting forms that capture every possible data point imaginable.

Don't worry about capturing every possible data point. I've been creating safety reporting systems for aviation SMS for over a dozen years. In real life, safety teams only occasionally need to go out and get more information.

I repeat:

Only occasionally do safety teams need more information from reporters to investigate reported safety concerns.

If you are encouraging employees to report every close call, as you should, don't make employees suffer from your poorly designed safety reporting forms. You know the result. Your safety culture may already be suffering. Don't make it worse.

Download aviation safety culture checklist

How Many Fields Are Best for Hazard Reporting Templates or Forms?

Aviation hazard reporting forms for airlines and airports

You may be wondering how many or how few data points you should require with each hazard reporting template?

We have no perfect answer when it comes to how many fields reporting forms should contain, but the best balance should be to collect only the data points you really need. In most cases, follow-up investigations will yield more information.

The fewer fields you have in your reporting form, the more likely is that stakeholders will submit the form. We have seen that most employees will submit at least one safety concern, and when their experience is not good, they won't repeat the behavior. Besides having too many data fields on the reporting form, other related considerations include:

  • How long does it take for the form to load? (nobody likes to wait forever)
  • What types of devices do my users use? (desktop, laptop, smartphone, etc.)
  • What happens if I forget my password to the SMS database or safety reporting system?
  • Will users need offline reporting capabilities?
  • What happens when the safety report submission fails? Any backup options?
  • How are Internet speed and reliability where most employees operate?

Longer reporting forms take longer to load, especially:

  • in low Internet bandwidth areas; and
  • on older, slower computers, iPads, tablets, and smartphones.

In short, the more fields you add to reporting forms, the more friction (work for your reporters), and consequently your reporting culture suffers. Many times when I see a long form, I give up immediately and refuse to fill out the form. One example is when we take our three-year-old daughter to get a doctor's checkup. When their forms are too long, I become exasperated and hand the form to my wife to fill out. She is more tolerant than I.

There is a fine line between having too few fields and too many. If you find that you have to continue hunting down reporters for more information, you may want to add a few more fields.

The best way to determine what works best for your SMS safety reporting system is to test it. First, try the minimalist approach. When the safety team encounters too many problems with insufficient data points coming into the system after a sufficient amount of time passes, then you can make adjustments. Otherwise, you will be hurting your safety culture immediately and damaged safety cultures take considerable time to repair.

What is a "sufficient" amount of time to test each iteration of the reporting form? Six months.

Related Articles on Aviation Hazard Reporting Culture

5 Tips for Creating Effective Hazard Reporting Forms

How to create hazard reporting forms for aviation safety management systems at airlines and airports

1) Only ask for information you really need for your safety team. Also avoid making too many fields required, which increases friction (frustration). To keep SMS reporting forms manageable in length, consider using more than one specialized reporting form and allow users to select the type of report they wish to submit, such as:

  • Flight related;
  • Maintenance related;
  • Ground operations;
  • Airport Security;
  • Document request change;
  • Air Traffic Control, etc.

2) Reduce friction and frustration. Make sure safety reporting forms load quickly and don't hang. When possible, make hazard reporting forms available for all web devices, such as iPhone, iPad, Android, and other Web browsers.

Also, make sure the reporting forms render well in the major browsers used by your all personnel, such as:

  • Chrome;
  • Firefox; or
  • Safari.

3) Notify users immediately that their safety concern has been received by the safety team. Feedback is important to improving your reporting culture. Employees don't like to be left wondering if the safety team actually received the report, or whether the report went into a black hole, like so many paper-based reports. Email notifications from the SMS database are a best practice. If you have a modern SMS database, these email notifications can be sent out automatically.

4) Allow users to follow up or track their report. Safety reporting cultures are enhanced when employees can track their reported safety concerns. Just like a UPS or FedEx tracking number, employees develop an enhanced sense of confidence and trust in the SMS knowing that they can track their reported concerns whenever they like. The truth is that when employees know that they can track their reported safety issues, they seldom do it except in very good safety cultures. Otherwise, employees may not be interested. They fulfilled their responsibility to the SMS, now it is time for the safety team to put the issue through the risk management process.

5) Don't be afraid to make changes to hazard reporting templates. An aviation SMS is a living, breathing, evolving entity. Don't feel that changes mean "failure in the initial design." Aviation SMS changes, just as their requirements change due to constantly changing environmental pressures. Modern SMS databases are more flexible than point solutions or white-label software packaged by SMS re-sellers. An SMS database is the preferred technology for managing SMS data.

Related Aviation SMS Database Articles

Final Thoughts on Aviation SMS Hazard Reporting Forms

The design of your SMS hazard reporting templates or forms will determine how many reported safety issues your company will receive. Most reported safety issues don't require 50 fields of required data points. We must think of the end user's experience when designing reporting forms.

In most cases, less is more. Most sophisticated aviation hazard reporting systems have the ability to easily modify reporting forms. If you need some help, give us a shout.

SMS Pro has many predefined safety reporting forms in the SMS database.

You may be interested in seeing this best-in-class aviation hazard reporting solution in action!

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Last updated in November 2023.

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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