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Organize Your Data, Streamline Your SMS
By taking blame out of the equation, and putting the focus on managing risk proactively, a safety management system (SMS) can enhance the safety of a business aircraft operation. But SMS is still a new approach and requires a culture change, as well as new processes for reporting and tracking safety hazards. As more flight departments have overcome the cultural shift and adopted SMS, the challenges become more about getting the procedures right.
Overcoming the Reporting Challenge
“When operators have a hard time implementing SMS, it’s usually about encouraging people to report hazards,” said Rick Boyer, manager of aviation at SCANA, an energy-based holding company in the Southeast. “After we worked that out, ”
That is a common challenge many operators experience about one year into implementing an SMS: With hazard reports coming in, the department now has a steady stream of safety data, but how do you organize that data and use it to better
“We had a process that was very manhour intensive,” said Boyer. “To submit a hazard, you had to sit down at a computer in the hangar to fill out and submit the form. If I saw the hazard report and thought, ‘Didn’t we write a report on that three years ago?’ I’d have to manually read through every single one, pages and pages of reports. Then six months later, the hazard would happen again.”
To better manage the data from hazard reports, SCANA developed an internal software solution. SCANA is not a large flight department; the company flies two King Airs and has 10 aviation professionals on staff. By working with a software engineer employed by the parent company, Boyer and other members of the flight department were able to create the webbased Information Hazard Reporting and Tracking System (IHRTS).
Other business aircraft operators have worked with SMS solution providers to put software systems in place for reporting and tracking hazards, but having the right software doesn’t ensure your controls will be effective. It all starts with that first task: collecting hazard data you can use.
“If your hazard-submission process is too difficult, then you’re not going to collect enough data to use the full potential of any SMS software system,” said Don Baldwin, president and CEO of Baldwin Aviation, a South Carolina-based SMS solution provider. “The biggest challenge is getting people to feel free to report events, even small events.”
Make It Easy to Capture High-Quality Data
When designing a hazard reporting form, you have to decide what works best for your operation: whether to make it paper-based or electronic; whether to build it into the flight log or make it a separate step; whether or not it can be accessed from a mobile device. There’s also a natural tension between the need to collect enough data on each event and not overburdening employees with an excessively long form.
If your hazard-submission process is too difficult, then you’re not going to collect enough data to use the full potential of any SMS software system. DON BALDWIN President and CEO, Baldwin Aviation
“With the vehicle for collecting information, you need to remove as many physical and cultural barriers to submitting hazards as you can,” said Steve Witowski, vice president for business aviation safety systems at ARGUS PRISM, a Colorado-based SMS solution provider. “The informational power
in a hazard report comes from the intimacy of submitting a detailed event. But intimacy demands comfort. You don’t want your staff to hate the form.”
SMS experts recommend using a simple form and emphasizing that submitting hazards is confidential, and that the company has a non-reprisal policy for those who report potential problems. “The process has to be very easy to use,” said “Our approach is designed to let you log in, submit the data and get out.”
With SCANA’s web-based IHRTS system, anyone in the flight department can write a hazard report anywhere they have Internet access. Only when employees are comfortable reporting events – even those that have been easily fixed or –can an SMS generate the data to suggest effective mitigations.
Put the Data Into a System You Can Use
Having an effective reporting process is only the first step. The next is organizing the data from hazard reports to make it simple to see trends. “What you don’t want is the equivalent of a big stack of papers on your desk,” said Witowski. “You want to be able to look at what types of events are happening to you in specific conditions.”
One of the advantages of a software program is that it allows you to query your collected hazard data. SCANA’s IHRTS divides all hazards into air and ground events and enables the safety officer to assign one of 10 “causal factors” to each hazard, including human factors, maintenance, crew resource management and equipment failures, among others.
“With our system, I can create spreadsheets and graphs very easily,” said Boyer. “It allows me to slice and dice hazards by date, air and ground events, causal factor, airport and other aspects.”
“For example, when we began analyzing our hazards, we saw we had a number of reports at Pennsylvania’s Butler ’re building two new nuclear power plants, so we fly up often to meet with Westinghouse,” Boyer continued. “Butler is at 1,248 feet elevation and the runway is less than 5,000 feet long. Our pilots had reported we were within 10 percent of our takeoff limits, so we set a policy: At temperatures above 25 Celsius, we don’t fly with more than 14,000 pounds of gross weight; at 35 Celsius, our policy is to use Pittsburgh International [PIT] instead.”
Being able to categorize and query hazard data can also show where your aviation operation might be under-reporting or over-reporting events.
Western Airways, a Sugar Land, TX-based charter operator with a fleet of six King Airs and 10 business jets, uses a software solution provided by ARGUS PRISM. “With ARGUS, I can see their aggregate, sanitized data for all their customers,” said Western Airways Director of Safety Martin Murat. “I can look at pie graphs and see, for example, what percentage of hazard reports in the industry are maintenance reports.”
With a system in place to organize and analyze your safety data, you can use it for more than hazard mitigations. “For instance,” said Baldwin, “we worked with one flight department that was able to show they had errors when one mechanic was working alone towing the aircraft. With their system, they had the data to support hiring an additional mechanic.”
Re-Evaluate Your Process Continually
With an SMS in place, the lifecycle of hazard reporting, mitigation and tracking typically touches many people in the flight department. “The safety officer is not responsible for fixing everything,” said Witowksi. “They’re just responsible for keeping the information organized.”
One of the three fundamental elements of an SMS is continually monitoring the process to make sure it’s working. The basic steps in the process are pretty common.
At Western Airways, after a hazard report is submitted, it’s sent to the Safety Committee for review, entered into the PRISM system and rated according to a risk matrix. The risk matrix is a two-axis rubric where every event is rated by its likely frequency of occurrence (from “extremely improbable” “frequent”) and its severity (from “negligible” to “catastrophic”). At SCANA, this is the same stage in the process where the safety officer assigns the event a causal factor.
At both flight departments, the next step is for the hazard to be assigned for resolution, usually sent to the chief pilot, maintenance manager or other supervisor to implement a hazard mitigation. At that point, the hazard is considered “closed out.” This isn’t the end of the process, however. As Boyer says, “the closeout process ends the reporting phase and begins the tracking phase.”
Ensure Your Controls Are Effective
In the tracking phase, hazard mitigations are reviewed for effectiveness. At this point it’s important to document that the hazard was sent to the right person and that the person took action.
“The key is ensuring that corrective action is deep enough,” advises Witowski. “It’s usually not sufficient just to brief the issue at the next pilots meeting. Just communicating a hazard to someone doesn’t solve the problem.”
As Witowski explains, this is one of the essential differences between an SMS and a traditional safety program.“Communication was a large part of a traditional safety program, with posters up in the hangar and briefings about accidents,” said Witowski. “SMS is about getting to the root of the problem; for example, do you not have enough manpower after hours? You might need to change the duty shifts. Is the ramp not well lit? Install lights.”
The key is ensuring that corrective action is deep enough. It’s usually not sufficient just to brief the issue at the next pilot’s meeting. STEVE WITOWSKI Vice President for Business Aviation Systems, ARGUS PRISM
Often, a hazard mitigation starts with writing a policy or a standard operating procedure (SOP), as in the case of SCANA flying to Butler Airport. “Your flight operations manual is your primary risk-mitigation document,” said Baldwin. “It’s where you define every aspect of the operation and how you mitigate risk.”
It’s also helpful to review hazard mitigations regularly. “We have an annual standardization board to review our flight operations manual,” said Boyer. “One day a year, every hazard is reviewed to make sure the control is working for us. Last year was the first year we had an automated system, so we didn’t forget about any reports and we could compare them in the same format.”
Similarly, Western Airways performs a quarterly assurance check. “With ARG US, all our hazards come back 90 days later for an assurance check,” said Murat. “We look at each hazard mitigation and ask: ‘Is this working?’”
Customize It So It Works
As the refrain goes, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to implementing an SMS, and paper-based systems still work best for some operators. “Many of our clients are one-airplane operations. Some are one-airplane/one-pilot,” said Baldwin.
Whether you employ a paper-based system, a spreadsheet or a software solution, it has to be a system you can use.
As Witowski explains, “Some risks are universal, faced by every flight operation, but everybody’s unique, and there’s a sliver, say 2 to 5 percent, of the risks you face that are unique to your operation. That sliver is something only an SMS can identify, and you can’t get at it if you can’t slice and dice your information, can’t query it, if it’s just a stack of paper.”
Read these previous articles on safety management systems in Business Aviation Insider:
- SMS May Eventually Be Required, But What Will It Cost?
- New SMS Sessions at This Year’s Dispatch Conference
- SMS Myths and Realities
- NBAA Is Helping Companies Implement Safety Management Systems
- An SMS Can Raise the Safety Bar
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