Safety Management System Update: Safety Communication

While under several regulatory umbrellas, safety management systems (SMS) are still not mandated. So, it falls upon individual Flight Departments to make continuous improvements. Here, Mario Pierobon considers strategies for updating operational safety communications...

Mario Pierobon  |  23rd February 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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    Why do Safety Communications need updating in the Flight Department


    Previously, we considered how to update hazard logs as part of a Flight Department’s Safety Management System. The discussion continues this month with the best practices for ensuring effective safety communications.

    According to ICAO Document 9859 (Safety Management Manual), an operator should have a communication strategy that enables safety communication to be delivered by the most appropriate method, based on individual roles and the need to receive safety-related information.

    “The safety manager should also ensure that lessons learned from investigations and case histories or experiences, both internally and from other organizations, are distributed widely,” the document says.

    How to Define ‘Safety Communication’

    Practically, safety communication requires that corporate flight departments identify what needs to be communicated, to whom, by what means, and then ensure that the information is conveyed effectively.

    Whoever oversees safety communication (usually the safety manager) must select content that’s relevant to the organization that raises safety awareness. Information could be internal or external.

    Internal information could be information from safety reports or flight data monitoring showing consistent patterns requiring the flight crew(s) to raise their awareness. And example would be flight profiles at particular airports, or specific local criticalities.

    External information is normally information available in the public domain, and specifically the findings of aircraft accident investigations or news published in the trade publications. The latter source of information is particularly useful. The aviation industry generally, and the Business Aviation industry in particular, benefit from a plethora of articles that are published every day focusing on various aspects of aviation safety.

    With such a wealth of information, the task of identifying and selecting relevant information does not require excessive effort. 

    The person in charge of safety communication should develop a communication strategy for the year. The themes should come from internal safety databases as well as brainstorming sessions with selected professionals who are sensitive to safety (e.g. those who contribute significantly to the reporting system).

    Why is Safety Communication Necessary?

    Apart from being required by international aviation safety regulations, safety communication is necessary, serving various aims. According to ICAO Doc 9859 one aim is to “ensure that personnel are fully aware of the SMS, and this is an effective way of promoting the organization's” safety policy and objectives.

    Another aim is to convey safety-critical information, which is related to safety issues and risks that could expose the organization to safety risks. This could be gathered from internal or external sources such as lessons learned, or related to safety risk controls, depending on what the corporate flight department determines is safety critical and timely information to communicate.

    ICAO Doc 9859 considers raising awareness of new safety risk controls and corrective actions to be another important aim of safety communication. “The safety risks faced by the service provider will change over time, and whether this is a new safety risk that has been identified or changes to safety risk controls, these changes will need to be communicated to the appropriate personnel,” explains the document.

    Other aims of safety communication include providing information on new or amended safety procedures, promoting a positive safety culture, and encouraging personnel to identify and report hazards and provide feedback.

    After all, safety communication should be a two-way street – it is important that all personnel communicate safety issues to the organization through the safety reporting system. And safety communication should ideally serve to provide feedback to personnel submitting safety reports on what actions have been taken to address any concerns identified.

    When safety procedures are updated, it’s important that the appropriate people are made aware of these changes.

    How to do Safety Communication Well...

    As to the means to deploy, ICAO Doc 9859 suggests that safety communication may be done through safety newsletters, notices, bulletins, briefings, and training courses. The latter (briefings and training) are rather less formal than newsletters, notices, and bulletins.

    Essentially, the more formal means of communicating safety require that information be arranged in a single document, according to a given hierarchy of meaning.

    When compiling a safety newsletter, for example, it can be confusing to arrange articles that relate to different topics, because flight crews may not understand what the key focus is and which area they should raise awareness in.

    Therefore, it’s best to identify a main theme for the newsletter and arrange various articles covering various aspects of that theme. For example, if the main theme of the newsletter is ‘extended range twin engine operations’ (ETOPS), the various articles should cover aspects such as technical, operational, training, and safety related ones, helping ensure that the recipients understand they need to raise their awareness on ETOPS.

    Effectiveness Monitoring

    If a particular theme has safety criticality, and perhaps time criticality too, it should not be communicated in a compartmentalized fashion, because the corporate flight department should have a safety communication strategy. The information conveyed through the newsletter (for example) should be reinforced by briefings and training courses.

    Similarly, the safety communication strategy should foresee that what’s salient from a safety point of view and is focused on in briefings and training should also be emphasized in safety newsletters, notices, and bulletins.

    In summary, according to ICAO Doc 9859, safety communication activities should be executed throughout the life cycle of the SMS. Corporate flight departments should especially assess the effectiveness of their safety communication.

    This can be achieved by routinely checking personnel have received and understood any safety critical information that has been distributed, which can be done as part of the internal audit activities or while assessing your SMS’s effectiveness.

    Read more in this series - Safety Management System Update: Hazard Log Tips

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