Safety Management System Update: Hazard Log Tips

Continuous improvements to the flight department’s Safety Management System are essential for an operation to truly reap its benefits. That includes keeping a ‘live’ Hazard Log that is constantly reviewed and refreshed. Aviation safety expert Mario Pierobon offers tips...

Mario Pierobon  |  27th January 2023
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    Mario Pierobon
    Mario Pierobon

    Mario Pierobon holds a Master’s Degree in Air Transportation Management from City University London,...

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    Tips to update your flight department's safety management system


    While still not mandated, Safety Management Systems are strongly encouraged, and have been implemented within most corporate flight departments for several years now.

    One of the items defining SMS implementation is continuous improvement. Corporate flight departments should never allow themselves to become complacent about their SMS. The moment an operation begins to feel comfortable with its SMS should trigger a review, since there should always be room for an improvement in safety standards.

    The following series of articles relates to the continuing improvement of the SMS, beginning with an overview of best practices for developing and updating the Flight Department’s hazard log.

    What is a Hazard Log & Why Does it Matter?

    The hazard log is a central element of the flight operation’s Safety Management System. It should clearly illustrate the risk profile of the corporate flight department, and consultation of the hazard log should provide a snapshot of the hazards the organization is exposed to, along with the measures being taken to manage them.

    There are several categories of hazards that could make up the hazard log, but for the purposes of this discussion, we’ve selected three broad categories that are representative of common operational safety concerns of corporate flight departments. These include:

    • Procedures and operating practices,
    • Communication factors, and
    • Organizational factors.

    Procedures and Operating Practices

    To develop the hazard log, the corporate flight department should not just wait to receive safety reports from the line.

    There should be recurrent, dedicated sessions with various pilot representatives to identify those procedures and operating practices where safety may be compromised. The whole typical mission profile (e.g. pre-departure, departure, cruise, landing, post-landing) should be risk-assessed, and hazards identified for each phase of the mission.

    It is important to distinguish between generic and specific hazards. Generic hazards will include several specific hazards that are narrower aspects of the generic hazards. In general, it’s unusual for the list of generic hazards to contain more than 25 items.

    An example is the use of automation, which applies pretty much to all phases of flight. The generic hazard could be overreliance on the use of automation in general. To identify the specific hazards, it’s necessary to explore specific aspects of over-reliance on automation. For example:

    • Is automation prone to misinterpretation by the crews?
    • Are crews becoming complacent to warnings and not paying enough attention to them?
    • Are crews using automation so extensively that their problem solving abilities are weakening?

    Communication Factors

    When populating the hazard log in relation to ‘communication factors’, the working group should address issues such as whether the operatives are aware of effective communication principles. Is communication covered sufficiently in crew resource management (CRM) training, for example? Is the bare regulatory minimum covered, or is there a wealth of case studies and exercises to practise effective communication?

    Another aspect is whether the communication principles that are trained are used in the line environment. Is communication considered a part of the checking of pilots, or as part of their performance appraisal? Do line checks confirm or contradict that crew communication follows the typical pattern of effective communication (e.g. opening, information, action, and confirmation)?

    In relation to communication factors, assertiveness should also be considered in the development and update of a hazard log that is being continuously improved.

    Assertiveness is a competency of communication that ensures effective communication.

    • Is everyone, especially junior professionals, communicating confidently what is needed, or are they being submissive with respect to rank, etc?
    • Are senior professionals being too aggressive in the way they communicate, imposing position and personality?

    Organizational Factors

    When it comes to organizational factors, the subjects that should typically be addressed include the degree of pressure pilots are exposed to, the safety culture of the organization, and how these may generate safety hazards.

    Any organization is to some extent subject to pressure. The problem is not the pressure itself, but how it’s managed. Corporate flight departments may receive pressure from passengers who have little understanding of flight time restrictions or fatigue risk management. It is important to manage such pressure effectively.

    When assessing the implications of production pressure, the organization should consider what protocols it has in place to handle them. How many requests are received that are considered ‘borderline’? How does the flight department respond to these? Is there an open communication between flight department and passengers/charter broker where safety concerns are fully communicated?

    Is the flight department structured to allow a ‘balance of power’ between the passenger/commercial and operational departments? Is the safety manager accessible and listened to by all parties? Is the safety manager as ‘safety savvy’ as everyone trusts they are?

    Assessing your Safety Culture’s Maturity

    The safety culture of the organization is the set of shared beliefs that define how mature the corporate flight department is at proactively managing safety performance. To understand the level of maturity of the safety culture there are several tools that may be used, but most commonly the safety culture survey.

    Developing a survey is not an easy exercise, requiring advanced planning. The corporate flight department should do some brainstorming on the main cultural aspects that it wants to investigate through a total of approximately 20 questions.

    When the first safety survey is developed there’s room for extensive brainstorming. When the following ones are developed, perhaps a year later, it’s best to follow-up on some of the main findings from the previous surveys. The results of the survey should then be considered by the working group producing or updating the hazard log to determine the operational safety implications of the survey’s findings.

    Ultimately, developing and updating the hazard log of a corporate flight department that wishes to be proactive in improving its SMS requires dedicated sessions to be organized, with subject matter experts contributing to the population of the hazard log.

    The hazard log must be a ‘living’ document that is continuously updated with input from reports from the line environment. This is the only way for continuous improvement to be pursued – don’t neglect the hazard log!

    Read more on this feature - Safety Management System Update: Safety Communication

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