Quality Safety

My SMS Tool Calibration is Outdated!

Written by Sergio Romero

The winter that crushes my morning safety round freezes me for a moment as I walk around one of the parked and silent aircraft in the hangar. I already have the objective, look at it and isolate my thoughts to focus them on the risk analysis of the hazard I have in front of me.

Line production in the AMOs is based on the objectives of service rendering and aligned with them. We also need to cross this information with quality standards. That is, to what extent we meet the established standards, why we cannot fully comply with the standards, what is the reason why line personnel decides not to follow a procedure, “… because due to an identification card, a plane will not fall down, Sergio.”

And then, I remember my days at the CAA when I thought about how effective were the rules and procedures we wrote to reduce risk; how much money companies have to invest to meet standards, including people, implementation time, adaptation and constant success over time. I still devour the humidity of this cold morning’s environment and the questions emanate strong and precise:

  • Why is it difficult to convince operational personnel that this new procedure will now be a defense against accidents?
  • Why do they think of providing maintenance with the few resources they have and make the decision that this will be the only valid standard?

And I think about the balance between production and protection. We need to balance this management. And we have two well differentiated sides. They produce, live with the pneumatic tool to make the structural repairs; I see them bent for a long time in the cockpit to install cables, with the location and tension drawings. Me, with my camera and my desire to protect the operation.

Then, I see the jacks holding the aircraft and I remember my foreign experience in an AMO last year. I was doing my quality round and the Dash 8-200 was a huge jewel for me. I approached the aircraft. I saw the jack that was giving one of my friends a MIL-H-5606 bath. He looked at me and was fighting to get out of the emergency. Other technicians came to his aid. I took the photos, made my report and when I read the Maintenance Organization Manual, I was more frustrated and worried than my friend bathed in hydraulic fluid. One of us had to perform an incoming parts inspection. No one did it. Why? They needed to carry out a work card and there was no time. It was either taking the jack that was available or looking for another one because they borrowed it for a few hours. This time nothing happened. But history repeats itself in my head and in the facts. Another jack borrowed without evidence of having undergone the incoming parts inspection. I talked with those in charge and I received the same response: “The jack was borrowed, and there was no time to carry out inspections and comply with the procedures.”

So, I understand what I read years ago. The SMS is operational. I can’t talk to them about safety without thinking like them. I cannot pretend that they remember each defense-procedure if they do not consider it as such. I can’t get them to be convinced of the quality and safety procedures, because they don’t belong to them. They just want to perform their operating procedures and that’s it.

I’m still in my round and I meet the same guys from this workshop. They work with hazardous chemicals. I have only entered their office two or three times. One, to introduce myself to them. Another one, to audit them, and one last time to the workshop to verify the operating conditions. Never for surveillance. Why? They do not need it! Whenever I pass by them, I can see through the windows a marvel: They all carry out material inspections and use their complete safety equipment. And that happens every day. No one tells them what to do or how to do it. Recently I asked them how is it that they always use their safety gear, how it is that I always see them ordered and consulting their references without anyone telling or remembering them to do it. One of them still in his safety apron responded. “We are convinced that using the PPEs is part of our operation”.

Now I have more work to do, I have more to read and study, because so, in this state, the calibration of my SMS is outdated. It’s not about auditing and making rounds to find failures. It’s not about looking for hazards all the time. I must try to think like Professor Sidney Dekker of Griffith University in Australia.

It is a recommendation I received from a friend. Thanks to this, I am changing my perspective on safety and commitment. We Safety Managers should not use a “whip” and pursue actions performed incorrectly in a maintenance task or activity. Why don’t we pursue positive actions of the operational staff such as those of my friends’ workshop convinced to use their PPEs? What if we convince them that safety is part of their operation and not another requirement?

I share as a challenge to your minds this quote from Professor Dekker: “Safety Differently is not about stopping the things that can go wrong from going wrong. It is about finding the capacities and features that make things go right, and then taking the leadership to enhance those capacities, and the conditions to give rise to them. Don’t focus and obsess with stopping things from going wrong! Focus on what has to go right and enhance the capacities that make it so!”

About the author

Sergio Romero