Somebody asked me the other day why I was so passionate about safety. I answered his question with a question, "Am I more passionate than you?" I have lost too many friends, been to too many funerals, and endured the horror of being first on scene of an aircraft crash to find someone with whom I had shared a few social moments the night before spread all over 2 miles of German countryside. I have seen the look on the faces of widows and orphans. I never want to experience any of that again.
So how do we generate enthusiasm amongst those who have never been touched personally by tragedies brought about through unnecessary accidents? Of course those of us who are long in the tooth can tell a few war stories when the hanger doors are open. (and how we love doing that!) But that is hardly enough. I have to remember that the timing of the question was was during initial training for all employees about our All New Safety Management System. My obvious passion for safety came across because I was so enthusiastic about SMS, and what it could do for us.
There are many reasons why an SMS is the right way to go, and many of those reasons have already been well documented. (See the United States Helicopter Safety Team (USHST) website for many such examples.) I have yet to see anybody concentrate on the fact that a well-organized, well-designed, and well-supported SMS can do a great deal to encourage the apathetic. Under our old safety system there was one twelve-month period when not one safety concern report was filed. I come to find when I return to the job that it was mainly because, "nothing ever gets done." So if your policy makers commit to and devote the resources to a safety management system, they are therefore by definition committed to being much more responsive. It is little good having a non-punitive reporting system if the general perception is that nothing will get done.
One of the pillars of SMS is safety promotion, difficult in the old paper-based systems. How do you get a completed safety investigation piece of paper into everyone's hands? Under our SMS when a form is posted, all employees can read what was found on the investigation, what was done to fix a problem, and what residual risk has been accepted by the accountable executive. Who? A requirement of SMS is to identify the person who controls the purse strings in the organization. That person is therefore required to sign off on risk management and hazard analysis processes.
If you want to add to those two major advantages just one more feature of SMS it would have to be as follows. Many of us have seen trite phrases on notices saying, "Safety is our number one priority,” when we know it is not. By making people accountable from top to bottom within an organization you can only add to that safety culture where it is no longer acceptable to walk past a hazard that you see, it is no longer acceptable to ignore the reports of people who care, and it is no longer acceptable to minimize the risks associated with our “risky business.” Members of the organization with any brain whatsoever know full well the hollowness of the often quoted phrase, "We are a safe organization; we have never had an accident." That may just be luck, because statistically most aviation operations have existed for many decades without an accident.
With SMS in place, running well, supported by all levels of the company, we can now say,
"We are a safe organization, and we can prove it!"