Managing Operational Hazards

The fact that hazards come together with airport and aircraft operations, is an open secret. However, as the eminent aviation pioneer and author Amelia Earhart once said: “To worry is to add another hazard”. Therefore, we have learned to live with risks in aviation. This goes for the public, authorities, operators and all those associated in one way or another with the industry. For professionals like myself who share an operational background, it means we accept that the probability of harm being realized is an acceptable commercial feature. At the same time, I am a believer that many incidents and accidents can be prevented. Is this possible one may ask? Yes, by having in place, a robust and flexible reporting system is my answer.

When I mention ‘robust’ reporting, I refer to a system that is well organized, full of capabilities, there is an established safety culture within the organization and the management is supportive.  As far as flexibility is concerned, everyone should have access to the reporting structure, the arrangements including software and forms, should be user friendly. These provisions should also allow for various feedback mechanisms to be present.

Aviation has a broad framework dealing with Safety Management

For me personally, when it comes to dealing with aviation safety, I am mostly concerned with aerodrome and aircraft operations. In this themed article, I focus on safety looking from such perspective. I must point out, I do not ignore nor do I disregard safety in a wider context. Simply, here I address the issue centred on my specific expertise and knowledge. Having said that, in operations we are fortunate to have available a broad framework dealing specifically with Safety Management. This framework uses a broad selection of applicable elements, including publications (ICAO Annex 19), set standards and other mechanisms like the Regional Aviation Safety Groups (RAGS) for example.      

As I said earlier, the reporting process is of fundamental importance and should be central to safety management and the system’s performance. Still, there are some key prerequisites to consider if we are to plan for an efficient reporting system. First, hazard-reporting tools such as forms or applications should be as simplified as much as it is possible. They must be user friendly, otherwise people tend to avoid reporting or to engage in complicated procedures. Too many fields to fill in and too much time to complete forms can be rather off putting! Second, safety related training is pivotal in many ways. Employees, stakeholders, operators, they all must be able to identify hazards and risk control in the same way. Training should go further though as everyone should be educated around the relevant reporting system and guided accurately about reporting processes.

Hazard reporting should be genuinely encouraged

Hazard reporting is also part of a well-established safety culture. The bundle of any organization’s professional values, behaviours and prevalent attitudes related to safety, determine how likely or possible hazard reporting will be for the particular group. For instance, where safety is perceived to be in Management’s priorities (i.e. top, low etc.), is good indicator to understand how often staff report identified hazards. Therefore, line managers and leaders should genuinely encourage employees to report hazards. This in turn, will lead staff to engage comfortably in the process. Finally, assuming that organizations want to actually deal with safety well, it makes sense to have in place an active non-punitive reporting policy.

How is hazard reporting at your place? Do you work for a supportive company? How do you colleagues behave when it comes to reporting dangers? Hazard reporting is a major issue that should concern everyone in the air transport sector. Feel free to make your comments or describe your own story here.  

FURTHER READING

ICAO, Document 9859, Safety Management Manual

ICAO, Document 9734, Safety Oversight Manual

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