There are many definitions for the word “hazard.” Once definition states that, “a hazard is a present condition or circumstance that could lead or contribute to an unplanned or undesired event such as an accident.”
Many aviation risks are born of hazardous conditions and attitudes that are the direct result of a cultural acceptance that has promulgated over a period of time. Operational mindsets, including the mission-type mentality often involve the “that’s the way we do it” or “that’s how we’ve always done it” or even “we have got to get this done” type of organizational, or even personal inadequacy. Bad habits such as this and the lack of organizational leadership have given birth to many unnecessary risks that have led to numerous fatal accidents. Many organizations or pilots operating this way have no idea what right looks like.
Why does it occur?
As the old saying goes, ignorance is bliss. The reality is that many operators only know “right” after an accident or incident and everything has been brought to the forefront. Normally this happens through an investigative body or in some form of an outside audit. You know the operators that say “we haven’t had an accident in 20-plus years, we obviously are doing things right.” In many cases it is only by the grace of God that the holes didn’t line-up for those operators with a negligent mindset.
How to fix it
I would never suggest that all risks can be eliminated. However, I believe that many of the risks we face in our industry can be eliminated with the identification and subsequent conquering of organizational hazards. As alluded earlier, you don’t know what you don’t know. The way to educate yourself about the hazards within your organization or your own workflow involves work, time, and serious commitment. Additionally, you have to seek out those with some specialized knowledge.
Fortunately, much of the work is already out there and readily available. In the air medical industry Flight Risk-Assessment Tools (FRAT) are not only utilized but mandated by regulation. I am amazed to more outside that community know nothing of FRATs or how to use them. Or if they have heard of them they thing they are too small of a unit to use something like that. Sadly, I’ve heard that exact statement on more than one occasion. No unit is too small to collectively weigh the risks involved for a particular flight or shift. Not doing so is negligent. There is much to be learned and adopted from other sectors of the aviation industry.
In a perfect world and with a workable budget, a good place to start is with an outside analysis of the organization. This will give the organization an idea of what hazards are present and more importantly, how to mitigate those hazards. While most operators have absolutely no desire to have an outsider look at their organization in great detail, the function of an external audit is to ensure that an organization’s internal controls, processes, guidelines, and policies are not only adequate and effective but that they are in compliance. This level of compliance involves governmental requirements (federal aviation regulations), industry standards, and organizational/departmental policies. Much of a proper audit will identify the hazards and subsequent risks that are blind to the organization.
For nearly all facets of our industry, organizations can find best practices other organizations have already implemented for improving their own risk management practices. While you may not agree with all of the recommended industry practices, many of them do have a great deal of merit and warrant serious consideration.
Is it possible to conquer all hazards? Not likely, but not making an effort to find out what you don’t know about your organization or your own flying could be the first link in an accident chain. Industry best practices are out there. Seek them out and tame many of the risks in your operations.