This is a question operators and safety professionals who manage a safety program must ask regularly. An annual review, at the very least, is necessary to validate you are doing all you can do to prevent accidents.
The U.S. Helicopter Safety Team is wrapping up an in-depth review of 52 fatal accidents to see if it could find similarities and make recommendations to help prevent future accidents. This review indicates some common safety practices were not followed. We, as pilots, mechanics and operators, need to review just how we are conducting safety management and ensure our fellow aviation professionals follow safety practices and protocols.
Safety management consists of many aspects of risk management. As we review our safety programs, we must answer many questions. Does your organization have a positive safety culture? Do you practice “just culture?” Do employees feel that these cultures are being practiced? Does your company have clear operating standards based on safe and professional procedures? Do you have an effective hazard-reporting program, and is it well documented? Are there regular safety meetings? Is there an emergency response plan that is complete, current and practiced? Does the safety director operate a good internal audit system? Is that director conducting trend analysis? Does the company maintain good communication throughout? Does it support HAI’s Land and Live initiative?
Land and Live is a vital part of any safety program. It means paying attention to what your aircraft is telling you, evaluating the information and constantly reconfirming the wisdom of continuing the flight. To improve the initiative’s awareness, HAI and Helicopter Foundation International are working on several efforts. They are revamping websites. They are promoting the practice at the ab initio level with flight training, educating certified flight instructors about assisting in pre-flight planning and risk management prior to taking off and reviewing the lessons learned from any pilots who practiced it. You do not want to let your helicopter decide suddenly for you that it’s time to land, becoming a passenger in your own aircraft.
Maintenance safety is just as essential as flight operations safety. You must ask similar questions regarding your safety programs. Are maintenance departments doing all they can do to enhance safety and reduce risks? Are mechanics conducting daily or weekly safety meetings? Are all the manuals available and current? Do all mechanics practice tool control with a shadow box? Do all mechanics and maintenance personnel know how to submit a hazard report? Do the mechanics practice a “no cell phone” policy while working on aircraft? Does the company maintain and follow a published fuel-quality program? Does the company maintain and mechanics follow a written tool control program and a written maintenance quality-assurance program?
Many operators and pilots are now just becoming aware of how a flight data monitoring program can enhance safety. There is still much to do as far as promoting the benefits of such a program, especially to smaller operators. Flight data monitoring is a safety enhancement because flight data is analyzed, and adjustments to training and operations can be made to improve safety. There are programs available to help operators learn more about flight data monitoring. HAI has joined forces with the FAA as part of a rotorcraft information-sharing project.
Operators must look at annual training to ensure it is sufficient for its employees. Are flight simulators used for annual instrument meteorological conditions training? Are your pilots familiar with the process to submit hazards? Are they performing the some of the basic pilot duties, such as proper preflight (include a proper walk-around inspection)? Are your pilots maintaining good physical health and are they familiar with medication restrictions? Finally, is human factors and fatigue management training conducted, and is it well documented?
Safety management is an ongoing process of addressing risks and includes managers, pilots, mechanics and even ground-service personnel. It involves hiring not only the best but also the right employees. For those small operators that do not have a formal safety program, I would suggest investing in the company and looking for ways to develop a program.