Should the Rotary World Invest in IS-BAO?

By By Rick Christoffersen | August 1, 2011
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If you’ve visited the HAI or IHST websites lately you simply cannot miss the safety mantra of “Reduce the helicopter mishap rate 80 percent by 2016.” When I first heard this brave statement, I recall thinking, “Wow, pretty lofty goal.” Then I took the time to reflect on why these groups are aiming so high, and I couldn’t help but admire the tenacity of the effort—talk about a “go bold or go home” posture. But let’s face it, bold is exactly what the helicopter community needs if we are to make a substantial impact toward reducing the mishap rate. So I asked myself, “Can such an audacious goal really be met?” Well, actually yes, it’s been done in the recent past by the airline industry, and so surely the helicopter segment can do this too.

The principle behind the airline sector’s success was shifting the organizational safety culture from a reactive posture to a proactive posture. I’ve been involved in aviation safety for the last 20 years of my career, and in my opinion IS-BAO is the most effective model to start this transitional process, and to continue developing an effective operation into the future. Like many others, I initially felt that IS-BAO was heavily fixed-wing biased, but as I started to work more with these principles, the more I found that they could be successfully applied to the rotorcraft world with impressive results.

I wanted some other opinions as to why IS-BAO should be considered attractive to aviation companies and large government agencies. So I asked Stan Rose, HAI’s director of safety and vice chair of the Helicopter/IS-BAO team, and Jim Morrison, a U.S. Forest Service air safety investigator and member of the USDA/USFS Safety System Enterprise Team. Their answers were nearly identical, and echoed the same sentiments:


• “Regulations set the minimum standards,”

• “IS-BAO goes beyond the minimums, it raises the bar,”

• “IS-BAO is proven, it works,” and

• “Why create a new standard of excellence when one already exists?”

Jim further indicated from the implementation aspect that, “IS-BAO is a great checklist and standard to clean up and formalize things you’re already doing. It even helps identify risks you haven’t considered. What’s not to like about that?”

A consistent theme prevailed that IS-BAO is an ideal compilation of best practices, with proven methods to improve flight safety, manage risk, reduce the potential for mishaps, and improve organizational efficiency and effectiveness. IS-BAO standards are performance-based and process-led, allowing IS-BAO to be scalable to an operator’s needs.

That’s worth repeating—IS-BAO is scalable to the operator’s needs. Ultimately, this means that with some careful thought, and the desire to make it a success, IS-BAO can help produce the same results for a helicopter firefighting contractor as for the corporate air wing of a Fortune 500 company.

Core of IS-BAO

Ray Rohr summarizes IS-BAO best by saying it “is a code of practice that reflects what a well-managed flight department could do. It has an operator’s SMS as its cornerstone and contains standards, recommended practices and guidance material that operators can use to enhance safety, security, efficiency and effectiveness of their operations.”

IS-BAO standards, guidance and SMS principles are proven best practices that go right to the core of identifying and mitigating “latent system errors” within your business processes. Those who have attended human factors (HF) training have almost certainly been introduced to Reason’s Model that reflects “latent system errors,” those insidious holes or breakdowns in business processes that provide opportunity for error to be introduced and perpetuate into an incident or accident.

Accident investigators refer to these as “contributing factors.” SMS was developed to help operators identify these holes and get out ahead of them, to proactively identify safety threats and implement appropriate “preemptive” risk management strategies to prevent loss of human and material resources, i.e., proactive/predictive safety. We’re not talking just about major bent metal events here, SMS also targets those lesser events that gouge the bottom line—simple human error events that generate incidental aircraft damage, create unscheduled maintenance, lead to injury, lost work days, lost resource hours, and ultimately lost revenue. And it all too often links right back to business processes. SMS helps “right the boat,” but the bailing process can seem painfully slow. IS-BAO is like a gas-powered dewatering pump for your SMS—it gets you high and dry quicker.

Danger Lurks as SMS Programs Mature

Your company is sold on SMS and formulates a team to lead the implementation and put all the right safety processes in place. You continue to operate, record safety data and take action to mitigate the hazards. You begin to find and plug holes in your business processes—fatigued crews making simple mistakes, too much “word of mouth” procedures driving the train, well-intentioned crews exceeding their expertise or authority. SMS is working, but it is taking time and money to continue to support it to the elusive point that it is mature enough to see real gains. You understand that SMS is a process and not just an “off-the-shelf” product, but at the same time, you still feel exposed to the dangers lurking that have not yet been addressed. Surely with the wealth of knowledge and experience that is out there already, operators can fast track this process.

This is the beauty of IS-BAO—it is a consolidated package of proven processes that go right to the core of addressing latent system failures, those common contributors to mishaps. Implementing IS-BAO steers deliberate integration of safety “best practices” and ultimately expedites the process of identifying and closing systemic problems. IS-BAO helps operators avoid pitfalls during the early adoption stages of SMS and helps formulate a long-term, proactive safety strategy. The result is the desired end state of preventive and predictive management of risks. Just like a great football coach dials in the game plan and pulls the best from the team, IS-BAO coaches your SMS, and in fact your whole business, to achieve successful results.

IS-BAO Implementation

IBAC recognizes that a fully developed SMS requires time to reach peak performance. And since SMS is a cornerstone of IS-BAO, the program has adopted a phased approach to enable recognition for three stages of maturity.

Certification is supported by regular audits to demonstrate how an organization is developing. During the first stage, the chief concern is that the IS-BAO elements are in place, resourced, functioning and sound. Essentially, validating that the right foundations have been put into place to support the organizational structure, flight operations, maintenance control and SMS. To reach stage two, the auditor will need to see a functioning SMS appropriate to the organization, with a dynamic element of safety assurance in place. This adolescent stage is a challenge for all involved, but with commitment, especially from management, the organization will evolve into stage three, characterized by a healthy preventive and predictive safety culture. From this point forward, the IS-BAO auditor is interested in the effectiveness of the programs and processes, looking to see the organization continuously improving over time.

Safety Culture

I’d like to reinforce why IS-BAO hits the mark. Experience has taught me that the key component to a healthy organization is getting the “culture” right, as culture drives people much more successfully than rules ever will. You cannot demand a culture to be a certain way, regulate culture or even buy a culture, but you can create an environment where a healthy culture is encouraged to develop. IS-BAO provides some very helpful tools to create this positive environment, although it should be remembered that it is only one ingredient that is needed, along with a healthy dose of commitment.

IS-BAO has gained wide acceptance and use in the business aviation community—a community that shares more in common with helicopter operators than might be expected, governed primarily by Part 91 and the vast majority operating five or less aircraft. Business jet operators have embraced IS-BAO because it is a proven method to tighten business processes, and because it helps them move judiciously toward that desired end state of proactive, preventive, predictive safety. Looking forward to the integration of helicopter operations in the 2012 version of IS-BAO, it is well worth investigating now to learn if IS-BAO is right for your company.

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