Safety reviews are a vital part of a working safety system. At large companies, they are built right into the corporate safety strategies. In practice, however safety reviews come in many different forms. We'll look at what safety reviews are, what they are not, and what they can do for your safety program. (For more on safety programs, see Getting Your Occupational Health and Safety Program Started in 6 Steps.)
Safety Reviews Versus Safety Audits
Some will say that a regulatory audit of your company is a safety review. While the purpose of the audit may be to make your company more safe by ensuring it complies with the regulations, it is not a safety review. It is a regulatory compliance audit, and nothing more.
Defining and Measuring Safety
First what is safety? There are many definitions of safety, but the most simple definition that I have seen is "safety is the absence of accidents or incidents." If this were true, the only way to achieve total safety would be to leave all aircraft on the ground and not go near them. Therefore, we have to think in terms of level or margin of safety. For me, safety is the application of all reasonable means to bring the risk of an accident or incident to the lowest practical level.
Safety is very difficult to measure, as a company can be very unsafe yet have few accidents. Meanwhile another business may practice all Safety measures and still have a fatal accident. To bring the risk of an accident to the lowest possible level, one has to develop what is referred to as a safety culture. In order to do this, one requires a safety management system. Safety reviews are the part of the safety management system that ensure it will always be re-assessed and improved as time goes on.
Safety Reviews Find Hazards
A Safety review seeks to identify the latent conditions that have the potential to cause an accident or incident. These conditions are identified as hazards, and are then measured in terms of probability, severity and benefit. The hazards are analyzed and will result in a statement of risk with some possible mitigating circumstances that could eliminate or at least minimize the risk.
A company has a docking station for a large body aircraft, which must be fully retracted in order for an aircraft to be pulled into the dock.
- The hazard is there is no visible means to know that the dock is fully retracted.
- The risk is the aircraft will strike the dock if it is not fully retracted.
- The severity would be considered medium to high.
- The probability may be low as the company has a policy to always fully retract the dock whenever it is pulled away.
- A mitigating circumstance, which would help minimize the risk, would be to paint red lines. This gives a positive visual clue that the dock is, in fact, fully retracted. Training to insure that all personnel check that the dock is at the required line before towing an aircraft in combined with a check sheet calling for this check would reduce the hazard to a minimum.
As a side note, it took a $200,000 (CAD) crease in the side of a Boeing 747 before the company recognized the hazard.
System Safety Services' Approach
A Safety review looks for hazards that may be completely legal within regulations, but have the potential to cause an incident. The purpose of the review is to identify hazards and bring them to the attention of the company management.
A safety study, performed by System Safety Services, is always performed by two persons to assist in the validation of potential hazards. The study will begin by reviewing existing policies and determining if they are meeting their intended objective. The study will also talk to persons in the company for their opinion of the system. Many times, we have found examples where the janitor was aware of a hazard that the management team was unaware existed. The system within the company did not provide a means for this knowledge to be communicated to management.
The results of the Safety Study will be completely confidential and will be released only to the person authorizing the study. Once the study has been accepted no copies will be kept and all confidential information will be disposed of.
Decisions to implement none, any, or all mitigating circumstances rest solely with the management of the company. Only management is in the position to accurately determine the most appropriate action to be taken. (For related reading, see Why Safety Programs Fail.)
The Case for Safety Reviews
Safety audits ensure your company is in compliance with regulations. This is important, but it also represents the bare minimum expected. If your organization has safety as a corporate value, as most do now, then you need to start doing regular safety reviews. Safety reviews are a systematic study of the hazards and existing practices that results in concrete recommendations to improve your safety systems over time. Safety reviews are one step on the road to building a true safety culture.