Science and Technology News

Friday, December 7, 2012

NTSB, AFSEC explore safety management system

by Darlene Y. Cowsert
Air Force Safety Center Public Affairs

12/6/2012 - KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M.  -- National Transportation Safety Board Member Robert L. Sumwalt visited the Air Force Safety Center here on Nov. 27 to explain his perspective on the safety management system (SMS), and discuss its application and implementation. The visit came at the invitation of the center's SMS development team that's researching best practices to guide implementation across the Department of Defense. The Air Force is the lead service for that implementation effort.

Sumwalt explained the four components of SMS - written policies, procedures and guidelines; data collection and analysis; risk management and safety culture.

"SMS is a business approach to managing safety," he said. "That structure allows an organization to manage safety just as it does every other vital function of an organization."

In the last six years, Sumwalt has served as the member on scene for 11 NTSB investigations of major transportation accidents. According to Sumwalt, the NTSB investigations most often reveal that the impacted organizations didn't have adequate written policies, procedures and guidelines or didn't rigorously adhere to the ones they had.

Sumwalt directs much of his energy toward top-level organizational leaders to advocate for a strong safety culture.

"A safety culture is the fabric of an organization," he said. A safety culture begins at the top, permeates throughout an organization and emphasizes safety over competing goals, he added.

Sumwalt emphasized that a safety culture is more of a journey than a destination and warned that some organizations become complacent when they think they have a proper safety culture. He also explained the role of trust in creating a "just culture" as an enabler of proactive safety programs such as Military Flight Operations Quality Assurance, Aviation Safety Action Program and Line of Operations Safety Audit.

A roundtable discussion among Sumwalt and the center's division representatives highlighted topics of mutual interest to the safety center and the NTSB. Among those were applying the NTSB's SMS aviation model to all safety disciplines, standardization of terminology, using SMS to transform safety increasingly toward proactive processes and how to measure safety successes in order to repeat them.

"Member Sumwalt hit squarely on issues of particular interest to us - fostering a safety culture, risk management processes and implementation of SMS," said AFSEC Executive Director James Rubeor. "While Air Force safety and the NTSB have similar processes, it's always healthy to look at how other agencies are meeting new challenges and to explore their paths to overcome those challenges."

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