Integrating Runway Safety Teams with your Safety Management System

Cross-post Warning: I originally posted this on my other blog back in May but I always thought it belonged here. So here it is, at last.

I've just spent an amazing week in Bali1 workshopping with operators and regulators from the Asia-Pacific region (and some from further afield) on the issue of runway safety. We got a lot of good information from the Flight Safety Foundation, ICAO and COSCAP as well as airlines, airports and regional regulators.

The primary objective of the week was to provide information on and practice in the establishment and conduct of Local Runway Safety Teams (LRSTs). To this end, the seminars and workshop were great but I left feeling like one connection had been missed. The final question on my mind and many others, I am sure, was:

How do these runway safety initiatives integrate into my SMS?

I discussed this with a few of the other attendees and felt compelled to flesh out a few of my initial thoughts.

LRSTs are airport-based teams of representatives from runway safety stakeholders - the airport operator, the air traffic services provider, the airlines, the ARFFS provider and so on. The objective of this team is to collaborate on runway safety matters and coordinate responses to identified hazards or concerns. Much emphasis was placed on the inter-organisational and inter-disciplinary approach required when dealing with runway safety.

So how does this fit in with an operator's SMS?

The obvious relationship is through the committee arrangements found in most SMSs. In the ICAO approach to SMS, it is easy for me to imagine the LRST as a Safety Action Group (SAG).

According to the Safety Management Manual (SMM), a SAG is a "high-level committee, composed of line managers and representatives of front-line personnel" that "deals with 'grass roots' implementation issues pertaining to specific activities to ensure control of the safety risks of the consequences of hazards during line operations".

The language paints the SAG as an internal body but I see no reason why such a SAG of inter-organisational representatives cannot be convened as required when a safety issue requires it. The diagram on page 8-7 of the SMM suggests that multiple SAGs can be established and at Australian aerodromes, a safety committee of stakeholder representatives has been common thanks to some early advisory material.

A SAG sits under the Safety Review Board for that particular organisation, be they airport, airline, etc. The SRB is a higher-level committee tasked with strategic-level safety policy direction and safety assurance.

Graphically, the relationship could look something like this:

SRB-SAG Relationships

For complex environments, separate SAGs would be required and for smaller, less-complex environments, perhaps one committee is all that is needed with the various safety issues becoming working groups or even standing agenda items. It would be up to the operators involved to find the sweet spot - somewhere between the being so specific that there isn't enough work to do and being too general and having too much to do.

For airlines, and in some states, the air traffic service provider, there will be multiple LRSTs and other committees for them to attend. For these and large, complex airports, there maybe additional "mediator" committees required to coordinate and filter the numerous SAG-level committees outputs for input into that organisation's SRB.

So what are these inputs and outputs in terms of SMS functions?

If we look at the good ol' four pillars of SMS, then these inputs/outputs are the various elements of safety risk management, safety assurance and safety promotion.

Safety Risk Management

While each stakeholder's SMS will consider the risk associated with runway safety from their individual viewpoint and tend to identify treatment strategies within their sphere of influence, the real power in the LRST is the bringing together of these viewpoints to get a much more comprehensive picture of risk.

With this picture, the team is able to identify a range of treatment options designed to address the various aspects of the risk picture is ways that work together and cover the many causal and consequential pathways which exist within such a complex safety issue.

Safety Assurance

Again, each SMS in isolation would tend to measure only those aspects of safety performance within that stakeholders activities. As a bare minimum, the sharing of assurance information and at best, co-assurance activities, would greatly enhance the level of confidence each SRB would have that runway safety risk is being addressed.

Safety Promotion

Sharing a room, a team, an objective promotes safety much more than a safety poster. The safety training and communication systems within each stakeholder will be strengthened with the additional perspective provided by the other stakeholders. The possibilities here are endless.

Since I like drawing pretty little diagrams, here is another one describing the above:

LRST I/O in terms of SMS functions

Now, I don't want to diminish the progress one would make by establishing an LRST and getting some of the above going. These are very important steps and well worth the effort.

(here it comes)

But...

for those looking to the future, here are some challenges.

Amalgamating risk assessment methods - each stakeholder may have different approaches to risk analysis and they most certainly will have different risk criteria - pulling these together will a challenge.

Sharing assurance information - each organisation is going to need a strong just culture to achieve this one as airing your own dirty socks in public is never easy.

The answers to these challenges are...well, if I had definitive solutions, I probably wouldn't be sitting here blogging about them your free!

What I can suggest however, is that each stakeholder remains open with respect to risk assessment techniques and consider solving the problem on a common level - separate from the higher corporate level that a lot of SMSs operate on. With respect to sharing information, the suggestion at the RRSS Workshop was that if you want someone to share potentially embarrassing information with you, share some of yours first. I'd add to that, that it would be a good idea to establish agreed protections on the safety information to be shared.

Runway safety is a big, complex issue and there is a lot of work to be done on many levels. The LRST is one level, state runway safety groups are another. I am looking forward to some of the technological, operational and regulator advances that will be made in the future and with advances in safety performance monitoring being made, we might very well be able to monitor the effectiveness of progress in this area like never before.

1. I know. I have a tough life, right?