13 June 2009

Is It Time To Rethink Safety?

We take safety for granted.

We are complacent.

We are in danger.

There are so many studies on the subject of safety that you can drown in the amount of information. It is clear that the travelling public has been essentially "lucky" in that the number of accidents is not higher than it is. Hopefully this luck is not an accident of chance but a result of systematic focus on safety.

One of the most dramatic improvements in cockpit management has been the Electronic Flight Bag - EFB. However the recent incident involving an Emirates A340 at MEL highlights that there is still a problem with the overall safety of the system - namely the human factors side.

There is no answer to the question of how to manage safety - it is essentially unmanageable. We just have to hope and pray that the combination of factors that can cause an accident either never happen or that we can create mitigation for them.

Reading the reports of the AF447 accident, it would seem to the layman (and that includes me) that there are circumstances when things go wrong and nothing can be done to fix them if there is a major external distracting event going on. The lessons of Eastern Flight 401 have been researched and analyzed yet the core combination of factors continue to cause either accidents or almost accidents.

The recent revelations of the CO commuter Q400 accident reveals some things that should never have happened. Yet they still do. Crews commuting from more than 2000 miles away and sleeping on couches in a ready-room. Etc Etc.

We all as public and as professionals must be vigilant. We have to ensure that safety is not someone else's job. Its all our job. There is an excellent article in ATW June 2009 entitled back to basics. It makes a sobering read. We cannot just look for politically expedient solutions. We have to bring a culture of endemic focus on safety that embraces us all. We are all part of the solution. We can be thankful to the boys and girls in the front who guide the tubes to their destinations. But they are just part of a machine. That machine needs to work at 100%, all of the time.


1 comment:

Roberg said...

It’s interesting that you would write a blog post about safety. Transportation safety is something I know about. I had worked for Amtrak for many years before I started in the travel business. One of my jobs there was to supervise train conductors and engineers. During my time there we lost 2 employees, in 2 separate incidents. Both incidents could have been avoided if the employee had been paying attention in the “here and now.” One was electrocuted when he climbed on top of a locomotive where there were live overhead high voltage wires and the other passed a stop signal after he had jimmied a safety device that would have stopped his train. In the last incident 4 people on a passenger train also died in the accident.

What I learned there about transportation safety is that it is mostly corporate culture in an organization with some luck. That is why some railroads are consistently at the top of the rankings of the safest railroads. We had safety slogans galore and we preached safety to our employees day in and day out. But we also expected our employees to do their jobs. The posters said safety is job 1 but in fact job one was to transport passengers to their destinations, albeit safely. Where do we and our common carrier vendors draw that line? The FRA (Federal Railroad Administration) exists because railroads cannot be completely trusted to operate safely without regulation and oversight. Hours of service rules are an example, and the most recent crash of the Continental Airlines commuter flight in Buffalo bears that out.

Having said all that, you hit on the one thing we tried to implore to our transportation and maintenance employees. Safety is EVERYONE'S job. We must ALL be vigilant, passengers and crew, alike. This also applies when we get in our cars. We must live in the here and now, aware of our surroundings. There are no shortcuts and patience is a virtue.

We, the traveling public, can set an example for airlines, railroads, politicians, and other travelers.