Breaking the Norm: Are new methods for measuring aviation safety needed?

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Are the number of accidents a good way to measure safety?

Are the number of accidents a good measure of safety?

For years, the benchmark for measuring aviation safety has been accident and incident statistics. Is this approach antiquated? As we move towards Safety Management Systems (SMS) and adopt proactive safety practices and programs, should new criteria for measuring safety be developed and adopted? Should operators and regulators identify the key safety elements that should be collected, measured and managed to assess the safety of an organization? Following are three areas that should be considered for measuring the safety of an organization:


Safety Fundamentals – Compliance with regulations pertaining to safety such as training requirements, manuals and procedures, equipment maintenance, and the coordination of activities within and between teams/units.

Safety Values/Culture – Safety attitudes and values expressed in words and actions by leadership, regarding safety. This reflects the commitment to safety at the top levels of the organization.

Going Beyond Compliance – What is the priority given to safety in the allocation of company resources (e.g., equipment, personnel time), even though they are not required by regulations? This may be reflected in areas such as employee rosters, scheduling of shift work and rest time, providing advanced technology when essential, fatigue and human factors programs, and other risk-based management systems.

Aviation organizations must find and utilize safety data that is statistically valid and pertinent for measuring the success of a safety program. Accidents and incidents happen far too infrequently to be an adequate measurement of the effectiveness of a safety program. The ultimate irony of such current industry practice is the use of negative outcomes to measure safety program success.

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