How Do You Approach Safety?

Nicola Tims
November 17, 2020

How does our industry approach safety?

How does our community approach safety?

How do you approach safety?

The topic of safety in aviation is, well, topical in itself, and it's not uncommon for other industries to look to the aviation community for how to manage and mitigate risks. What personal values, ideals, processes and/or tools can we put in place to ensure we get home safely every day? 

Chris Young is a highly-regarded and well-known figure in our industry, whose work has positively influenced all areas of aviation. He's always been involved and working in and alongside the community, and his 25+ years of experience has seen him hold various roles with the Navy, flying Air Medical, building safety management software, and implementing processes in healthcare, among an extensive list of achievements! 

We spoke with him about our industry and community, and collated his thoughts on safety in aviation.

Insight and Understanding

For Chris, it’s always been about the bigger picture.

“It’s really [about] helping people recognise the importance of Risk Management,” he says. 

“Really looking at ‘what are the hazards?’, not just ‘oh, don't trip over that electrical wire,’ or 'don't fall off the aircraft when you're working on it.' It's more about really understanding what could potentially happen. It’s helping people realise that, and also helping them put risk controls in place to ensure that their people, their clients, and their products are safe, and safer than they were before.”

The Impact of Information

To gain better understanding around concepts such as risk management, and have the ability to identify hazards, we can analyse, interpret and assess data and information from events past, and work towards bettering ourselves and not making the same mistakes. As a society, we’ve seen the accessibility of data and information become far easier through recent developments in innovative technologies, however — this can be both beneficial and distracting when pilots are tasked with making important decisions.

“Technology does play a big part,” notes Chris, “The reliability of the equipment itself; the engines; rotor system; electronics, and avionics all improve reliability, so failures that occurred some 50 years ago are much less likely because technology [obviously] has helped improve the industry safety record.”

“The ability to collect and analyse data has been extremely positive,” he says. “Flight data monitoring is a great example where you're able to collect a lot of data from the aircraft and pilot performance that you did not have before.”

The flip side to this?

Having an overwhelming amount of information, and not having the ability to take action.

So then how much information is too much information?

By having the ability to filter out what’s important, and making information visible when it needs to be — this is when information has a more positive impact on the way pilots are flying — they’re able to make better, well-informed decisions.

The Four Pillars of Safety

Chris breaks down the Four Pillars of Safety for us:

Policy and Objectives
  • The relationship of policies, organisational goals and the accountability of every individual. 
Safety Risk Management (SRM)
  • Hazard identification, safety risk assessment and the analysis of this; the purpose of putting risk controls in place.
Safety Assurance (SA)
  • Validating and verification of doing what you say you’re doing, walking the walk, to control or mitigate risks.
Safety Promotion
  • Effectively training and communicating with those you work alongside and with you, as well as those in the industry, giving awareness around what the risks are, and how they’re being mitigated.

We all have different ways of ‘labelling’ safety in our organisations; it can be in the form of a document, written rules, tick boxes, and manuals; however, there’s more to the process.

(If you would like to learn about the 4 pillars of an SMS in more detail, you can read more here)

Making the uncomfortable, comfortable

Difficult conversations are not the easiest conversations to have, but by having more of them, over time they can become easier. The same methodology and thought process applies to decision making.

“I think the decision of not flying, just turning back, going to your alternate, or not taking off — those are hard decisions. Making them the easiest decision is the safest decision — you're not pushing or having pressure to do something that you're uncomfortable with. Taking away that uncomfortable situation is also key to that decision making.”

ColleaguesPeopleUs! — we are the ones that make the processes happen.

“Organisations need to recognise that their people are their organisation, are their lifeblood to success. Having them be able to say something that you may or may not be in agreement with, but at least allowing them to speak and their voice be heard. That you account for their opinion. So maybe ultimately the decision doesn't change but at least it's being considered and being used as part of the decision making process to go do a particular job or action.”

Collaboration, Culture, and Confidence

As a collective, by continuing to educate and train, especially the younger generation, it will help instil safety as part of the culture, rather than be just a process.

There are many organisations that are actively promoting safety initiatives; the International Helicopter Safety Foundation, US Helicopter Safety Team, TOPS and HAI Working Groups for instance.

By making safety part of a culture, it’s acknowledging that it’s ok to speak up, and having that confidence can lead to smarter decision making. Safety is also our own sole responsibility.

“Ultimately, that culture component resides in the individual’s values and beliefs,” says Chris, “You're doing it for the right reason and are always doing it for the right reason. So, once leadership and management and owner have that, they bring in people with similar value & belief systems in place — that doing the right thing is the most important thing.”

And confidence?

Chris sums it up nicely.

“Sometimes pilots and operators find themselves in situations where they need to make difficult decisions, like turning around or not taking off, and that is not always an easy decision to make — to divert and land when it’s not safe to continue. We need more people like that in our industry — not to be afraid, and not to be concerned that the end result is going to be the client yelling and screaming demanding a refund. Most importantly, it’s doing what’s best for the client, pilot, the crew and the aircraft.”

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