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FAA is the Cornerstone Organization for Safety

Creating a Model for Industries to Emulate

Mary Schiavo, former US DoT IG in 1996 concluded that the FAA “is called the tombstone agency. Why? Because they wait for a major loss of life before making a safety change.” While that characterization was a bit overstated and typical hyperbole, its sting may have motivated the FAA’s executive staff to rethink its regulatory approach.

They decided to design and implement systems that would be more predictive in nature. The results were a whole host of data driven tools – ASRS, FOQA, VDRPASIAS, ASAP, CAST, SMS and the like, to name a few of the innovative technologies that now identify trends worth focused attention to implement proactive solutions. The immediate results were evidenced in 2012 which was the safest year in aviation history and in every year since.

faa safety management systems sms (2)

With the institution of these new programs, the FAA’s focus has moved from the past reactive mode to addressing  issues before they become a future problem. The key element to the puzzle is the collection of data which are subjected to complex analytical programs positing future issues which would be addressed. Armed with those safety pointers, the FAA, management and the unions assess the risk and where appropriate, design/implement solutions.

faa safety data collectionNow even the FTA has adopted the FAA’s program and former Secretary Foxx urged the automobile industry to study aviation’s advances.

So what was known as the tombstone agency has become recognized as THE cornerstone organization for safety as recognized by the Industrial Safety & Hygiene News. Here is an excerpted version of the publication’s article pointing to the FAA as a leader:


A light knock on your office door as a piece of paper appears underneath. The person vanishes. The form is a self-confession to a mistake, omission, or other safety incident. Without leaving your desk, you are getting a truer picture of the plant’s safety culture. Imagine these “under the door” voluntary confessions arriving every day. Wouldn’t life be great? Keep that thought…

Copying from others

Ever used a fast food drive-up window? Hamburger places “borrowed” the idea. The first drive up was at a bank in the 1930s. Fast food companies saw the potential and transferred this concept. And they are a smashing success!

Industrial safety has this same opportunity to borrow a program and see great success.

Will we use it?

Aviation IS industrial

Aviation is a dangerous environment, with every challenge of an industrial plant. Falls, hazardous materials, caught in/between dangers, electrical threats- aviation has them all. And unique challenges like jet blast.

To increase the flow of safety information, FAA partnered with airlines to start a unique approach. The 15+ year-old initiative is known today as the Aviation Safety Action Plan or ASAP.  ASAP’s purpose is to understand both threats and errors, and reduce them through voluntary, non-retribution, self-disclosure.

Three legged stool

The program prevents future incidents by bringing three equal partners around a table to resolve issues: a company rep, labor rep, and an independent third party that knows and understands the process.

Three principles govern

1) Voluntary, anonymous self-reporting:

2) Joint resolution:

Instead of merely imposing rules or decisions, ASAP gains concurrence from all involved. An “Event Review Committee” made up of management, workers/union, and a trained, experienced, impartial third party, resolves reports. They may research reportsfaa safety cornerstone to get more information or come to a decision immediately. ERC solutions become corrective actions, training, and feedback to educate employees.

3) Joint Investigation:


While not solely responsible, Peggy Gilligan and her AVS team deserve a great deal of credit for taking this initiative and creating a model for other industries to emulate.


Could a DOT/FAA program turbocharge industrial safety?
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