Integrate Safety

By By Karl Fessenden | May 1, 2015

CHC Helicopter President and CEO Karl Fessenden welcomed about 750 industry representatives in late March to Vancouver, British Columbia and the 11th Annual CHC Safety & Quality Summit, a premier safety event. Fessenden, who joined CHC in February after a 20-year career at GE, challenged attendees to embrace the theme of the event: achieving greater integration of safety management. This column is excerpted from his speech.


What is our mission? In my view, it is to do everything reasonable to make sure that the people we employ, work with and serve are able to go further, do more and, most importantly, come home safely every day.

A fully integrated safety management system (SMS) spans everyone in the service-delivery process, from providers, customers, rig-floor mechanics, hangar techs and ground-handling staffers to flight crews, platform administrators, flight-operations specialists, senior managers and the “silent majority.”


The “silent majority” is made up of our frontline people. They contribute to and influence safety far more than we may have acknowledged. They possess the capability, the will and the responsibility to help lower risk and increase safety. But to tap those qualities, we need to provide the requisite awareness, education, encouragement and support.

I believe in the maxim that every accident, no matter how minor, reflects institutional shortcoming. If that is true, then every stakeholder shares responsibility for reducing the number of accidents.

At CHC, every person has the authority and the obligation to implement and enforce our SMS. Our group safety culture seeks to clearly define the right behaviors—the “how” of a safety culture—and the desired outcomes—the “what.” We define the “what” as “no harm to people, property or the environment.”

Safety programs and tools that are exclusively top-down, that are pushed through an organization to the front line, may sound great in concept, but are rarely successful in execution.

Integrated inclusion, full engagement and accountability: these are ideals that must reach the hangar, the flight-operations console, the cockpit and beyond. In CHC’s case, helicopter transport is only one part of a complex offshore oil and gas industry, and of the search and rescue and emergency medical services that we provide. Ours are not standalone processes.

Among the people we need to better embrace are offshore oil and gas workers, especially those who fly on our aircraft. To one degree or another, everyone who helps extract oil and gas from under the Earth’s surface must be involved, engaged and accountable for an integrated, industry-wide SMS.

Achieving that requires genuine leadership and unfailing communication spanning senior executives, finance, recruiters, managers, and those in the “silent majority.” It is no simple matter to create such a culture in an industry this large, complex, diverse and globally distributed. But it is not rocket science, either.

Too often our communication with offshore workers is perceived as a checklist exercise: one-way and hollow. We need to make plain to offshore workers and others that we need them – we want them – to be active in a shared safety mission.

An important first step came 18 months ago, when CHC, Babcock (Avincis, at the time) and Bristow initiated a joint review of offshore helicopter safety in the North Sea region. We recognized that combined experience and ideas could lead to greater understanding and better, faster solutions. Doors typically closed to other operators were opened, and communication among the companies has been enhanced – all without compromising healthy competition.

That informal initiative has since been expanded, significantly funded and made more deliberate and lasting. Companies such as Era and PHI have joined us in what is known as HeliOffshore, which has a global mandate to include, engage and share accountability among currently 30 member organizations. At least that many others are in the process of signing up.

I urge all of us to not only recognize, but to realize, everything that inclusion, engagement and accountability can unleash. Not once. Not for a while. But completely, and consistently. Let me reiterate that: completely – and consistently.

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