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Transport Canada - Aviation Safety Letter An Ounce of Prevention…There Are Many Types of Measurements Feb 2010

An Ounce of Prevention…There Are Many Types of Measurements Feb 2010

by Cliff Marshall, Technical Program Manager, Technical Program Evaluation and Co-ordination, Standards, Civil Aviation, Transport Canada

There are many ways to measure performance: in school, exams are graded to establish academic abilities; in sports, time is clocked in split seconds to verify athletic prowess. Similarly, performance measurement can be used to determine how well a safety management system (SMS) is performing in an organization. SMS performance measurement is a tool that provides a method of measuring a company’s progression towards achieving its established safety goals and objectives. It is a process that helps answer the question “How are you doing?”

Performance measurement is an on-going activity in any effective SMS and must be applied during all phases of SMS development. It comprises three principal activities:

  1. Establishing what should be measured;

  2. Determining how it will be measured; and

  3. Monitoring it to ensure goals are being accomplished and the right thing is being measured.

An organization must constantly seek to identify hazards and understand the potential risks in order to focus on addressing the most critical organizational issues. This not only allows the organization to prioritize what it wants to address and measure, but it also provides a mechanism that allows the organization to demonstrate visible progress and continuous improvement to the SMS.

By using its unique hazard register and safety risk profile, the organization can adopt appropriate goals and objectives that address specific identified hazards and, at the same time, provide realistic and attainable goals. For example, if an organization were to set an objective of “zero controlled airspace violations,” it might be unrealistic to expect reaching this objective in a brief time period such as a year. It would be more reasonable to set yearly goals of reduction over a longer period. An organization could overburden its system by trying to complete too many objectives at once, or by attempting to overcome objectives that are too large in scope. Performance measurements are the tools that allow management to trace their progress with regard to these safety goals.

Performance measurement can also be applied to areas of weakness identified by the quality assurance (QA) program. When there are findings identified in an area, the organization can establish performance measurements to verify the effectiveness of the corrective action. Measurement of the safety goals should be a regular part of management function. Safety goals and objectives should be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure they are still relevant. The operational environment is dynamic, not static; the goals, objectives and measures should therefore be continually reviewed and revised as the organization changes.

A management review of the SMS relies on the information collected from performance measurements in order to determine if the SMS is performing as intended. A full management review should look at all aspects of the system—including performance measurement—and, where weaknesses are detected, changes should be made. This is an on-going process that allows the SMS to continually adapt and improve.

By using these processes, an organization will become proficient in identifying and addressing the type of performance measures it needs to align with the safety objectives. It’s useful to remember that before anything can be done, senior managers need to buy into the safety management philosophy and adopt performance-based management principles. There must be management endorsement at a company-wide level to ensure success. The focus should be on strategy and vision, not day-to-day operational controls. Managers should develop safety goals, ensure that each employee understands how their job fits into the strategy, and provide guidance so that departments can develop appropriate measures.

The accountability for accomplishing performance measures rests with the accountable executive. The responsibility for accomplishing goals and objectives, however, extends to all individuals in the organization. Everyone has a role to play.