Rest Assured: Safety Assurance for a Good Night's Sleep

This is part 1 in a 3-part series on proactive safety assurance. This article provides a little overview on safety assurance as a process and a potential way to lighten the load to get started. Of the 4 pillars of ICAO's Safety Management System (SMS) framework, I tend to think that Safety Assurance is the biggest lost opportunity. Policy, risk management and training tend to get done in same manner but a truly proactive assurance program is, in my experience, often overlooked. And that is a shame, because I see the assurance part as the difference between doing safety and managing safety. But the challenge is where to draw the line in terms of detail and reporting. This series looks at how to tackle that problem.

Without a feedback loop, a safety manager can't provide assurance to the highest level of the organisation that safety objectives are being met. Without that assurance, accountable executives cannot provide an account (the definition of the title) of how safety is achieved.

Without that accountability, I don't know how they sleep at night.

Investigation and statistical analysis are a key part of a safety assurance program but they aren't the full story. Looking at where you have had problems in the past is important but it's not going to cover all your bases - it is not going to help in a dynamic environment, during periods of change or to help catch that insidious black swan.

To complement this reactive approach, you need to get proactive.

That means going out and looking at the operation in action, making sure it is performing as designed and that the design achieves the objectives of the system (including safety). Again, this is the difference between doing and managing.

Going out and measuring normal performance will give you a better chance of spotting deviation and catching problems before they become problems.

Information Overload

So did that just double your workload?

It did seem that I suggest you not only do your job but then you check that your job was done correctly.

Well, yes, it does mean that. It gets even worse when you consider that many operational tasks airside on an airport are checks in themselves. So I am actually asking that you check that your checks are functioning as expected by you, your stakeholders and your regulator.

Regulatory guidance tends to suggest that the expectation is that operators will check their entire system and maybe that should be the goal.

But in implementing a new or revitalised proactive assurance program it might pay to focus on what is important or in other words critical.

Let's Get Critical

Critical is such a good word in this context. It has a generally accepted meaning that does allow it to be honed in specific contexts. No one seems to get upset when you specify what critical means in a particular context like they do when you define risk in anything but ISO31000 terms.

And it is tied to that concept of risk so neatly that now you start to have the ability to assess what aspects of your operations need to be looked at closely.

The organisation I work for focuses on critical controls and they are the pivot points for a standardised approach to auditing, review and reporting.

In part 2 of this series, we'll dive into critical controls and how they can be defined and then used to get a good night's sleep every night. But before you go to bed, leave a comment below and keep the conversation going.

Editor’s Note From today we will publish bimonthly, so 2 posts a month. Our next article will be on the 26th March 2014 then on the 9th of April and so forth. We thank you for being part of our community.