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."