The need for safety reporting

Whilst the somewhat chaotic summer at airports and airlines around the world has received a lot of attention, an essential part of aviation safety continues relatively unnoticed; safety reporting and the collation & analysis of safety related data.

Safely reporting safety

The oldest two formal aviation occurrence reporting systems still in existence are believed to be the US’s Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) and the UK’s Mandatory Occurrence Reporting Scheme (MORS). Both were set up in 1976 and they are both different to each other. ASRS is a voluntary system run by NASA that allows aviation professionals to report safety concerns anonymously. The UK CAA’s MORS is not anonymous but is, to a greater extent, run on the basis of a ‘just culture’ – i.e. one in which the punishment of the reporter of an honest mistake is not the focus of the system.

The concept of being able to freely report safety issues is of great importance. There is evidence that where workers fear the consequences of reporting problems, including their own errors, the likelihood that they will report is small. It does matter whether or not it is the company or a supervisory authority that takes the action. The former will usually only affect the company concerned, whilst the latter may affect the whole industry in that State. This makes an efficient and effective State occurrence reporting system essential.

Just Culture is a widely discussed aspect of safety management and will not be discussed further here. Two other issues are described; the ability to report and what gets done with all of the reports.

The ability to report

Describing a reporting form in a handbook and having a procedure requiring staff to report will not automatically mean that reports get made. Organisations have to understand how staff can best report safety issues. For example – and this is based on experience – keeping a supply of blank reporting forms in the office of the supervisor is not conducive to an open reporting culture. Equally, expecting staff to complete safety reports only at the end of a long shift or, even worse, in their own time will not result in an active reporting culture. Not only because reporters may be tired but also because smaller, low-level, yet unsafe events that occurred at the start of a shift may have been forgotten by the end of a long dynamic day of work.

Organisations should also ask themselves whether or not the reporting form itself is user-friendly enough to be used by all staff. Are staff able to report in their own language? Does the form’s complexity make its use unattractive to use? Is the means of submitting the completed form discrete enough to not deter reporting? In this last case, at a recent airport visit your author observed that there was a post box for safety reports in the security check area – a place that all staff pass through and no-one is likely to notice someone posting a report into the post box.

As a last thought… one airline that introduced safety reporting for flight crew via Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) saw a large rise in reporting but a drop in the quality of the texts submitted. Discussions with crew members showed that the way that the EFB was mounted in the cockpit made typing difficult. This was the root cause of the shorter, less detailed texts.

What gets done with the reports

There is no point in collating safety reports if the organisation collating them does not apply them to improve safety. Safety reports may be used for a range of issues, from targeted safety improvements to the publication of safety promotion material.

This is equally important to individual companies as it is to State organisations. If reporters do not see any benefit in reporting through action being taken, the willingness to report will suffer.

For more information on aviation safety reporting, get in touch with Adrian Young.

Main photo: Author’s illustration

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