Effective risk management depends on strong rules and not cutting corners

SMS promises lower loss rates, but safety culture is a prerequisite to success and key to achieving future goals.

Stages of safety culture maturity. Evolutionary model (Hudson's schema) showing range of safety cultures from the pathological through the reactive to the calculative. Later, the proactive culture can evolve toward the generative.

And with any of these there remains the question of how often this should take place. The alternative and more robust approach is to perform a safety culture survey by identifying and evaluating descriptive characteristics to determine the stage of maturity according to Hudson's schema shown in the figure on p 68.

Operators are expected to exercise due diligence in identifying and controlling significant and reasonably foreseeable hazards related to their operations. Clearly, identifying every conceivable hazard for the SMS register is impractical, but this is where safety culture fills in the gaps.

While promising, the future of SMS is unclear and a number of concerns remaining open to discussion. Some experts cast SMS in a negative light, describing it as costly, time consuming and difficult.

Many are intimidated by the very complexity and wholesale revision of the SMM. The large editorial and content changes of the draft 2nd edition indicate that international safety management philosophies for the 21st century are far from agreed.

(It is also oddly unsettling that the last group mentioned in the SMM list of system safety stakeholders is the flying public.) Recognizing the need to optimize production and protection, risk assessments performed internally face a potential conflict of interest.

There needs to be a thorough formal risk assessment made of SMS principles. Government ability to oversee and manage safety through intensive direct intervention when necessary must be constant and effective.

Characteristics of different safety cultures. This table appears in the ICAO Safety Management Manual 1st edition but was removed from the draft 2nd edition.

It is left to the operator to define levels of management that can make risk-acceptance decisions. According to the guidance available, there is no requirement to define related requirements for competence.

Further, the terms "accountability" and "responsibility" are-confusingly-used interchangeably. Finally, where the safety culture is not well developed, hazard identification may have to rely-as a last resort- on whistleblowers and self-disclosure.

Even in democratic societies, related whistleblower protection may be weak and in need of revision.


Risk does not respect the size of an operation nor does a low risk profile obviate the need for a safety culture and an SMS.

Although FAA has established a pilot project to help organizations implement SMS voluntarily, there is no minimalist approach to establishing either a sound safety culture or an effective SMS.

Both require time, attention and resources going beyond simple requirements for documentation, data collection and the hazard register. Little has been written about opportunities to exploit operational risk management concepts beyond the flight department.

This is unfortunate, since these have direct application to navigating the business environment. Recognizing imperfections in the real world, safety culture and SMS is a tool to optimize production and protection as well as mission accomplishment and loss prevention.

The 2 constructs meld for managing high-reliability operations (HROs) to achieve corporate goals along dimensions of risk tolerance, value and process improvement, both within and outside the flight department.

A robust safety culture will yield significant financial, operational and planning benefits, enabling the organization to contain costs and to exploit new opportunities more effectively. It will encourage the development of redundant systems allowing greater tolerance for failure, in turn permitting and promoting safe entrepreneurship.

Don Van Dyke is an 18,000-hr TT pilot and instructor with extensive experience in charter, business and airline operations. A former IATA ops director, he has served on several ICAO expert panels and is a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society.


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