Safety directors’ roles can influence the outcome of any safety audit. Without them, our industry can be affected in a number of ways. Here is what we can do about it.
The safety director is the focal point of any safety management program. This person ensures the accountable executive’s safety intentions are implemented and managed. The problem is there is a shortage of trained and experienced safety professionals in both the fixed-wing and rotorcraft industries.
What I’m seeing in today’s safety audits and evaluations for operators, as well as with my involvement with the FAA’s Rotorcraft Flight Data Monitoring Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing (ASIAS) project, is how many companies do not have a trained, full-time or part-time safety professional on staff.
I have seen operators who have their safety position filled by a company president, financial officer, special projects personnel (non-aviator), the chief pilot, director of operations or just the new pilot on board who has no experience in safety. I have even seen where a safety director’s first day on the job involved an audit in which they had no input. This is not good for us.
A safety director’s position should be filled by someone who has training and experience in both safety and aviation. Ideally, this person’s primary duty should be as the safety director, but also fly the line to observe operations and crews.
One of the worst practices a company can do is pretend to promote safety with a policy letter signed by the accountable executive and not practice safety throughout the organization. This can be very humiliating for a safety director promoting safety and asking for resources to manage the program that never materializes. Basically, the safety initiatives fall on deaf ears.
The search for a safety professional begins with identifying an individual who has had some safety training, is highly motivated and has a deep interest in safety. Once this person is identified (either internally or externally), the operator needs to appoint him or her in writing, allow him or her to attend additional training and have the authority to make changes to the company, if needed.
In previous articles, I mentioned believing our current civilian flight training programs do not do enough to prepare our future aviators with sufficient knowledge of safety and safety management. This stage in young aviators’ careers is where we need to start instilling safety prinicples so they can develop a good safety culture foundation and eventually become safety professionals.
One of the best areas to recruit pilots and safety professionals is from aviation universities that specialize in areas such as safety, operations, maintenance and aircraft management. Many of these young students have all the ingredients not only to become good pilots, but also good safety professionals.
There are many choices to choose from when it comes to safety training. There are formal safety management system (SMS) courses held by various organizations such as Helicopter Association International and the Transportation Safety Institute. In addition to these courses, there are one- or two-day safety seminars and online training.
Recruiting and retaining safety professionals is essential for the future of our industry. They will need to recognize the risks that are involved with aviation and have a plan in place to manage safety with the appropriate people. Companies need to resource and place emphasis on hiring and training the right person to work as a safety director. Small operators who do not have the resources to have a full-time safety officer should look at hiring a safety consultant to assist with not just building a program, but also in the preparation of an audit with a gap analysis. We need our experienced safety professionals to mentor the new individuals interested in safety.
Only when this takes place will the succession of safety professionals have a positive effect on aviation safety. This topic is not to be taken lightly.
As always, take action to fly safely!