In my last column, I wrote about the safety enthusiasm in a “Just Culture” that permeated throughout the HAI Convention back in March. This culture is a partnership with management and all employees. A safety culture is ultimately a leadership responsibility and needs management commitment. Let’s look and see what a “Just Culture” is all about.
I’ve attended many great safety presentations on this issue but one of these presentations by Bristow Helicopters proved to be very useful. This presentation was a combination of valuable information gathered from the IHST program and from Bristow’s Training and Safety Academy. The academy was well represented, with 10 safety professionals in attendance including the director. I was particularly impressed as to how these organizations work so well together. The presentations began by explaining what organizations are involved with this safety initiative and what they are currently doing.
The International Helicopter Safety Team (IHST) was created in 2006 and established a goal to reduce worldwide helicopter accident rates by 80 percent within 10 years. We all recognize the helicopter mission profile is inherently more dangerous than other areas of aviation. These areas include offshore operations, firefighting, EMS, long line, external cargo and SAR. IHST represents the leading worldwide safety initiative program.
Key initiatives to achieve this goal include: safety management systems; ADM; CFIT awareness; risk, automation and task management; helicopter flight data monitoring (HFDM); situational awareness; CRM; and training. And let’s not forget human factors.
Do most of us really know what is involved with a successful SMS program? SMS is the formal, top-down business approach to managing safety risk, which includes a systemic approach to managing safety, including the necessary organizational structures, accountabilities, policies and procedures. SMS programs for product/service providers (certificate holders) and regulators will integrate modern safety risk management and safety assurance concepts into repeatable, proactive systems. SMS evolved from other industries including ISO 9000 quality management systems. SMS doctrine can be adopted for all. In the military, we call it safety management through risk management using the Five Step program. Examples of SMS topics include: safety and quality policies (both personal and corporate); organizational structure and responsibilities; development of procedures and controls; safety culture; open reporting; risk management decision making; and safety management, assurance and promotion.
Do we need a “Just Culture” with flight training? Personal/private and training categories accounted for 40 percent of rotorcraft accidents in the U.S. during 2006 and over a three-year period those sectors were 75 percent higher than the next category, aerial application. Thirty-seven percent of accidents resulted from autorotations. The single highest category of autorotation accidents was attributed to instruction/training. How do we raise the level of awareness on the inherent risks of autorotation training?
There is always much discussion on how can we prepare CFIs to mitigate these risks? Are CFIs teaching the correct decision-making techniques? We must look at mitigating risks when training by looking at areas such as environmental conditions throughout the day (which effects aircraft performance), the planned sequence of how the training is conducted, how the student has performed in the past with certain tasks, and how to address the student’s weak areas.
With all the safety tools available in the aviation industry, it’s important to ask, “Why do we continue to make the same mistakes?” Causal factors for accidents and incidents have varied little despite improvements in the design, reliability and technology for environmental management systems. Familiarity and prolonged exposure without mishap can lead to a loss of appreciation of risk. We simply fail to follow the established practices—an issue complicated by a constant turnover of personnel. This is why training is so critical. We must have a plan to manage risk.
SMS is a decision-makers program. It must be incorporated in to all areas of operations—even small operators who work on a very little profit margin. It is a good return on your investment.
The opposite of managing a safety program could be loss of life, reputation and aircraft. A job done right will ensure safety is the first priority. I urge leaders, pilots and safety managers to take a close look at the SMS process and incorporate a “Just Culture” into everyday activities. We must bring the safety effort into a normal management framework. Don’t be afraid to speak out when you observe something that is unsafe. Train to be safe. The reward will be well worth the effort!