Commercial

Safety Update: Risk Propositions

By James T. McKenna | May 1, 2007

Emergency Medical Service

An Australian "visionary" is assembling a network of helicopter operators intent on adopting new ways of managing risk throughout their businesses.

THE AVIATION SAFETY NETWORK’S MOTTO COULD BE: Lean on me.

Founded by companies in Australia keen to adopt comprehensive risk-management on the grounds that it is good business practice, and to extend that commitment to the aviation portion of their operations, the network is just over two years old. It was fostered by a dynamic young former military safety analyst named Kimberly Turner, who cut her teeth investigating the 1996 midair collision of two Australian Black Hawks whose crews were training for Olympics security duty.

Turner set up Aerosafe Risk Management in Botany, New South Wales, Australia. The network is a means of promoting the expertise of her and her team at Aerosafe, of which she is CEO. The Australian-owned company specializes in providing risk- and safety-management services, including the development of risk-management plans, implementation planning and strategy, research and needs analysis.

But Turner is quite passionate about the potential of risk-management practices to make businesses safer and improve their bottom line. People who hire her and who work with her commonly use the word "vision" to describe her and that passion.

A month or so back, Turner and her team came to Washington to extend their Aviation Safety Network’s membership to U.S. companies. Her plan is to make the group a truly international effort. In introducing her new U.S. members, almost two years to the day when the network was launched in Australia, Turner seems to summarize the purpose of the network nicely.

"We need to sustain each other, encourage each other, pick up each other when we get down," she said in an evening ceremony at the Australian Embassy just up the road from the White House.

The Aviation Safety Network is a business venture. Aerosafe created it and runs it for a monthly fee that members pay to share in its benefits, which include accessing expert advice, guidance and tools "for the further development, implementation, and integration of your safety management and risk management systems."

But what was striking about the event in Washington was how the network seems to be on the path to becoming just what Aerosafe describes as its vision: "a support network for aviation organizations aiming to develop and sustain a positive safety culture, working with other providers in the industry to develop a consistent approach to safety and risk management."

What most of those in attendance at the announcement talked about, whether they were network members (and Turner clients) or not, was the need to go beyond compliance with rules and regulations in the pursuit of safety. Anyone who has attempted that knows the difficulty of convincing bosses and colleagues of the need to do more than the mininum prescribed by the rules. It is a lonely fight requiring a commitment to a degree that, at times, doesn’t even make sense to your closest friends and loved ones.

It is a fight that many people in aviation take on individually every day. Some give up every day, exasperated by the apparent futility of it. That, perhaps, is the terrible secret of aviation safety: that there are thousands of us out there who fought that good fight and no longer do, and therefore are unwilling to ever speak up again. Because efforts to improve safety at the ground level need every bit of help and support they can get every day.

Be a cynic. Assume Turner’s in it for the money. The people who joined her that night aren’t.

The new U.S. members of the network are, almost to an organization, emergency medical service operators, and that segment of the industry certainly has its safety challenges. But the new members include some EMS outfits with fine reputations and no apparent need for additional efforts of time and money to polish them. Memorial Hermann Lifeflight of Houston, the LifeFlight Foundation of Maine, and Aero Med Spectrum Health in Michigan are among them, as are California Shock Trauma Air Rescue, Era AeroMed (nee Keystone), San Antonio AirLife, and Alberta Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society (STARS).

Turner might find a group that included more leaders in improving helicopter EMS safety. But it wouldn’t be easy.

Linda Powell, the director of governance and externnal affairs for Alberta STARS, offered her take on why that group and Turner’s team had come together. "We’re saving lives through vision, partnership, and leadership."

It would benefit all of us in this industry if the pilot flying the line, the lone mechanic working nine aircraft on the night shift, and the lowly supervisor could find as rich a support network to help them keep their heart in the good fight.

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