Tips on implementing good risk management practices in aviation
Recently, Mario Pierobon has considered the foundations for safety identified by the NBAA as key elements for successful safety management in Flight Departments. Risk management is one such foundation…
Since risk management is the core function of a Safety Management System (SMS), we will deal with this area over two articles. First, we’ll consider what the practice of risk management is, and how risk assessment should be accomplished.
Next time we’ll look at implementing what comes out of risk assessment sessions and how to continuously improve the risk management practice.
Safety risk management is a core business function whereby an organization that delivers a hazardous or potentially hazardous service (such as corporate transfer by air) identifies the operational safety issues, considers how well those issues are being addressed and whether additional improvements are needed.
Risk management also includes implementing any additional improvements required that were identified as part of risk assessment, and monitoring their effectiveness.
The overall aim is to ensure that the Flight Department operates safely.
There are multiple ways to perform risk management. Regardless of the actual risk assessment procedure your Flight Department decides to follow, there will be a set of best practices to be considered by your organization.
Know Your Process
A fundamental pre-requisite for a risk assessment to be comprehensive and accurate is that the Flight Department performing the assessment be familiar with the processes in detail since it is in the process that operational issues can lead to unsafe outcomes.
Thus it is important to have a detailed description of the processes mapped out to determine what could go wrong at each step.
A Flight Department that does its risk assessment job well will have all of the hazardous processes that it deals with detailed to a significant level. Process mapping can be accomplished with software applications.
It is important that at each step of the process the company identifies safety issues along with the potential to go wrong.
With regard to flight operations, for example, the expectation is that a typical mission be described in detail with all steps from flight planning onwards, along with identification of potential issues.
Another important element defining a healthy risk assessment practice has to do with the atmosphere that develops among colleagues when safety risk assessment sessions are held.
Inevitably some people will know the business better than others. If the social atmosphere of risk assessment session is not properly calibrated, the risk is that only the voices of the stronger personalities will be heard, and only their perspectives accounted for.
This inhibits potentially valuable perspectives from being formulated as well as potentially significant issues from being identified.
Furthermore, people that have been doing their role for a long time may have their views biased by their experience, whereas professionals who are relatively fresh may be more free-thinking.
To ensure that the most generative social atmosphere develops, the facilitator of the session must be able to ensure everyone’s perspectives can be communicated. Thus, the facilitator will have a balancing role to play.
He or she must stimulate the less talkative members of the workforce to engage in the conversations about the potential outcomes of the operational issues, and ensure safety discussions are not dominated by experienced operatives with strong personalities.
Avoiding Pre-Complied Checklists
One last feature revealing an effective risk assessment practice concerns avoiding the use of a pre-defined checklist of safety hazards. If the focus of risk assessment sessions is limited to issues that have been identified by someone else, there is a significant opportunity lost by the Flight Department to learn about potential weaknesses in safety management.
The point of doing risk management is to proactively manage risk, not to cross-check what the organization is doing in relation to issues identified by somebody else.
It’s true that pre-defined checklists can also be used to make sure that risk assessment sessions have exhaustively fulfilled their aim of identifying issues and targeting them, but the purpose of running risk assessment sessions is that they be rich and generative.
They should not be bureaucratic exercises. Hence checklists should only be used at the end of risk assessment sessions to avoid bias.