Risk Assessment – The Heart and Soul of Safety

Risk Assessments are integral to the safety risk management process, conducted to ensure safety risks in daily aviation activities are identified, controlled, managed. Four primary objectives of documenting risk assessments are: risk-ranking hazards and safety events, followed by determining overall exposure from hazards and safety issues. Then comes establishing response priorities and lastly, tracking mitigation progress.

The process starts with the identification of hazards

Hazards are most often systemic, i.e., from either deficiency in design, technical function, human interface or interactions with other processes and systems. They may also result from the failure of an existing process or system to adapt to changes in the operational environment.

Hazards are then analyzed to determine magnitude of risk

Both proactive and reactive, analysis helps identify possible consequences and necessitates measures that either contain or mitigate the risk to an acceptable level of tolerance.

Assessments are based on the worst credible or potential severity

Of the event or specific hazard, the probability of that severity level is estimated. The worst credible criteria are considered because the actual severity or probability may have been far lower than the potential outcome. The difference is often a matter of luck or circumstances.

Generic risk assessment principles are applied to both reactive and proactive assessments

Reactive assessments are usually the result of some event or occurrence and are common in most safety investigative processes. Less common are proactive assessments that are driven by self-reporting, change initiatives or safety surveys. Both are essential to an effective safety management program.

Operators worldwide, are mandated to assess risk as part of the safety program

The matrices used for deriving severity, probability, risk classification, tolerability or acceptability and corrective action timelines have been specifically defined to aviation safety events and hazards. They are used for standard reactive and proactive investigations, as well as some proactive risk assessments led by Aviation Safety. Matrices may be altered depending on the type of risk assessment being conducted. (e.g., QA audit findings are assessed in accordance with the parameters set out in the MPM).

Risk values determine the speed with which a response for mitigation is generated

Higher the risk, more immediate is the response by an organization. The hazard mitigation process transitions from risk assessment to investigation. A hazard report typically points to policies, procedures or practices that have not worked or need to be reviewed or modified. Corrective action helps resolve those issues.

The above process is what safety is all about

In summary, Risk Assessment being the heart and soul of the modern Safety Management System, it dictates the speed with which hazards are managed. The risks facing the organization are evaluated for overall exposure, collectively. All this sets the stage for hazard management and continuous improvement of policies, standard operating procedures (SOPs) and practices.



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The Author

Dave Huntzinger is an aviation veteran with over 40 years in military and civil aviation. He has been a pilot in fixed and rotary winged aircraft and is now a leading safety expert and investigator.
At LAMINAAR Aviation Infotech, Dave is the subject matter expert for Safety, Quality & Security.

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