Definition of Hazard Identification
Hazard identification in aviation SMS is the baseline performance needed for a successful safety program. It is the first element of the Safety Risk Management component of the 4 Pillars of aviation safety.
At face value, hazard identification is fairly simple: awareness and recognition of potential danger in the operational environment. In aviation safety management systems (SMS), hazard identification is complicated by the fact that:
- Hazard identification needs to be adopted as a formal process.
Formal process means that hazard identification processes can be:
- Controlled/improved; and
- Quantified into safety data (i.e. safety performance monitoring).
Related Aviation Hazard Identification Articles
- FAA Part 5 Compliance | Safety Risk Management Hazard Identification Requirement
- From Reactive to Proactive Hazard Identification in Aviation SMS
- SMS Chart: Where to Focus Hazard Identification Training & Risk Mitigation
Hazard identification processes should be based on a combination of reactive, proactive, and predictive methods of safety data collection. The reason it’s important to understand hazard identification as a process is because identifying hazards happens as a result of several actions in the aviation SMS, including:
- Awareness building activities;
- Safety culture building activities;
- Actively recognizing threats in the environment; and
- Reporting threats in a formal hazard reporting tool (i.e. aviation SMS software or paper hazard reporting form).
Process of Hazard Identification
As said, what the “process” of identifying hazards entails is that hazard identification is the result of many actions within the safety program. The hazard reporting process can be summarized in 3 stages.
First stage: awareness and safety culture building activities. This stage of the hazard identification process is designed for stimulating the performance of identification ability, such as with:
- Aviation safety training;
- Aviation safety meetings;
- Safety newsletters and other en mass forms of communicating safety;
- Aviation safety policies and procedures;
- Safety surveys; and
- Safety checklists.
Related Aviation Safety Culture Articles
- What Is Safety Culture in the Aviation Industry?
- 6 Signs of a Mature Aviation Safety Culture
- 4 Unlikely Indicators of Unhealthy Aviation Safety Culture
Second stage: recognizing hazards in the operational environment. This stage is the actual action of perceiving threats in the workplace:
- Understanding risk factors;
- Understanding hazards and risk controls;
- Understanding how human behavior contributes to or mitigates safety exposure; and
- Recognizing all of the above in the everyday work environment.
Third stage: reporting hazards and other safety issues. This stage simply involves reporting issues through the formal hazard process, which usually is:
- An aviation SMS software with accompanying aviation safety database;
- A hazard report online or physically (paper); or
- Other hazard reporting methods, such as an Excel spreadsheet.
All three stages described above are essential for effective hazard identification.
How Is Hazard Identification Compliance Element Satisfied
The hazard identification element of aviation SMS is satisfied when:
- An organization has a reporting system to capture safety issues;
- The reporting system is actually being used on a regular basis;
- Employees at all levels of the organization are using the reporting system;
- Documentable steps are being taken (i.e. safety training) to improve the hazard identification process;
- Personnel express confidence in hazard reporting tools, policies, and procedures; and
- Reported hazards are documented and kept available for future use.
This element is satisfied when safety issues are being identified and reported in the organization, and then acted upon in a timely manner. Based on the reported issues, safety management should close the feedback loop by focusing safety awareness on the most relevant safety issues.
Related Articles on Aviation SMS Hazard Reporting
- 4 Hard Truths about Hazard Reporting in an Aviation SMS
- How to Make Effective Hazard Reporting Forms for Aviation SMS
- What Good Hazard Reporting Process Look Like in Real SMS
What Is the Operational Environment?
An extremely important topic to briefly discuss is what the operational environment is in aviation SMS. Too often safety managers and upper-level management are under the impression that front-line employees are the only people who should be identifying safety concerns and reporting them.
This comes from misunderstanding the operational environment as, essentially, the location where actual operations take place – such as the runway, baggage handling areas, etc. In fact, the operational environment is much more extensive than this and needs to be understood as including:
- Bureaucratic safety concerns: such as office work, data entry, etc.;
- Corporate safety concerns: such as web security, upper management involvement, etc.;
- Oversight safety concerns: such as impending compliance requirements; and
- External concerns: such as new technological developments that impact safety (e.g., Drones).
Long story short, the operational environment is any factor that has a bearing on safety. These factors exist internally at the front line, bureaucratic, and upper management levels. These factors also exist externally with:
- technological changes;
- changing regulatory requirements;
- political instability; and
- economic stability.
Finding Opportunities in Hazard Identification
While aviation SMS commonly focuses on hazard identification, aviation service providers should not neglect to also pursue and evaluate opportunities using the same risk management processes. Healthy risk management attitudes focus not always on avoiding operational risk, but also on economic risk based on identified opportunities that present themselves.
A healthy safety culture with engaged employees will have considerably more SMS participation. Employees will see the advantages of constantly improving operations. These are the kinds of employees that I like working on my team. Not only will they report when something doesn't look "right" or "proper," but also communicate potential opportunities that may not be obvious to management. Your SMS will mature into an integrated SMS and QMS.
Related Articles on Integrated SMS and QMS
- What Are Differences of Aviation Safety Management Systems (SMS) and QMS Programs
- 5 Easy Ways to Combine QMS and SMS in Aviation Operations
- 4 Things to Understand about QMS and SMS in Aviation Risk Management
Final Thought: Tip for Immediately Improving Identifying Hazards
A fantastic way to immediately improve hazard identification is to:
- Understand your current hazard identification approach; and/or
- Choose a hazard identification approach.
While every aviation SMS will use a combination of approaches to identifying hazards, each program will also stress one approach more than others. We understand this as the primary approach to hazard identification. 4 primary approaches to consider are:
- Data-driven approach (predictive): curtail safety awareness efforts to historical hazard reporting data trends in order to predict the most relevant and important hazards in the future operating environment;
- SWIFT approach: the Structured What If approach uses hypothetical scenarios to anticipate potential hazards in the operation environment – these scenarios are usually manufactured by a core team of safety personnel;
- Community approach (performing): relies heavily on the ability of ALL employees to accurately and quickly identify any sort of safety concern in the operational environment;
- Leadership approach (top-down): empowers highly knowledgeable individuals to be responsible for monitoring the operational environment and reporting a majority of safety concerns.
If you wish, you can explore these tips for identifying hazards in more detail.
Effect hazard identification activity in aviation SMS is where we all want to be, especially the accountable executive. When employees identify hazards and report them, the accountable executive will have the necessary "initial fodder" for the SMS' risk management processes to measure, categorize and refine risk controls.
Your accountable executive needs to monitor the safety performance of the SMS to demonstrate continuous improvement of the SMS. Without an effective hazard identification strategy backed up by actual safety reporting performance, the accountable executive and the safety team will have some explaining to do. If this happens to you, don't hem and haw around making excuses for your poor safety culture. The best approach is to provide a solution - i.e., yes, we know we have a problem and this is what we are doing about it.
If you need help with your safety culture and hazard identification processes, we can help. We have tools to turn your SMS into a profit driver that will also provide assurance to your account executive when auditors come calling.
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You may find this quiz and training syllabus very helpful for assessing current hazard identification abilities in your aviation SMS program.
Last updated August 2023.