SMS Physical Fitness

Written by Sergio Romero

“…moving the body seems to help the brain.” – Harvard Health Publishing

As I was walking down the aisle, I was able to contain the sneeze and look into everyone’s eyes. I felt I was about to fight my last battle there. But it’s no time for surrender, I told myself. It’s just another continued airworthiness surveillance and analysis committee meeting. Of course, they were like a little behind, because it was the first meeting within nine months. There’s no reason to feel like gathering the last casualties of this war against the insidious hazards, because I was a newcomer in this airline, but if no intervention was about to begin, as I perceived fat and oversized traditions among the employees, the only rational statement could be we are doomed!

Then, I knocked the Flight Operations Manager’s office door to begin the meeting, but a voice advised me he did not come yet. You know him, Sergio, he is always late for meetings. That was a blow. It made me turn back to the days I was a soccer player for my school, and how stringent and obsessed was my coach with perfection, with physical fitness, which was worth it, since we were champions ten times in a row. You might be thinking it is nonsense reminding physical fitness when talking about an airline’s safety performance, but I quite think, it’s not.

So, I came back to my office wherein I found the definition of physical fitness from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): “the ability to carry out daily tasks with vigor and alertness, without undue fatigue, and with ample energy to enjoy leisure-time pursuits and respond to emergencies.” Then I knew I just needed to fill the gaps for safety. It meant a checklist needed to be done. So, I used the requirement “ability to carry out daily tasks with vigor and alertness, without undue fatigue” to make the first questions with the purpose of rating an aeronautical organization’s physical fitness:

Does the organization have a safety implementation plan?

  1. Does this plan include objectives and goals?

  2. Is there any accountability considered when performing required tasks?

  3. Is everyone aware in the organization about the requirement of carrying out daily tasks?

  4. Are these objectives and goals set out with targets and alerts?

  5. Does the organization have a training program to enable personnel to perform required activities?

  6. Are there any human factors issues considered when performing required tasks?

  7. Are there any medical conditions monitored for operational personnel?

  8. Are there any measures considered when not reaching / exceeding acceptable values?

  9. Is there any risk management process considered, which is capable of detecting hazards and consequences and manage their consequences into risks and mitigations, when tasks are performed?

I looked to the whiteboard wherein the questions were written, and still gaps needed to be worked on. Now, the remaining part of the definition must be analyzed: “…with ample energy to enjoy leisure-time pursuits and respond to emergencies”, and this must be turned into the second part of the questions:

  1. Is there any policy set out?

  2. Are there any resources to achieve the required tasks?

  3. Is there any emergency response plan designed to contain unsafe acts / conditions?

  4. Are the personnel trained for emergency response purposes, including coordination?

  5. Is there any arrangement set out to report the activities when done?

  6. Are there any meetings to discuss on reaching / not achieving the required attributes?

  7. Are there any records for the results as obtained?

  8. Are there any measures to report results when not achieving objectives?

  9. Is there any arrangement designed to deal with changes?

  10. Are there any procedures that address continuous improvement issues?

It was a cognitive surge, I knew. I remember I sent an e-mail with these questions to all VPs in the organization. Our SMS became more organizational-minded and operational, since we used the answers as gym fitness sessions for safety.

A semester later results told us safety improved. Unsafe traditions not written in any manual, booklet or pamphlet got blurred, which meant the unsafe areas or “grease” volume decreased. We became safer, but we must be aware we are dealing here with professionalism, commitment, accountability and discipline. We must consider this as an everlasting endeavor for safety if we want to live within an SMS physical fitness culture.

About the author

Sergio Romero