The use of commercial drones has become increasingly popular in recent years, with a wide range of applications in industries such as construction, agriculture, surveying, and filmmaking. However, as the use cases for drones expands the complexity of the safety footprint increases also. The most effective way to address this for drones business to adopt the principles of a Safety Management System (SMS).
A SMS is a formalized and proactive approach to managing safety risks in aviation and the crewed aircraft sector have long understood its effectiveness in doing so. It includes policies, procedures, and organizational structures to manage safety risks and ensure continuous improvement. For organisations that operate drones and who may be new to the aviation sector (and therefore this level of organisational safety), the prospect of generating a SMS may be daunting.
Historically, drone operators have sometimes been guilty of paying lip service to the idea of safety. It does feature in the organisations Operations Manual (OM). However, safety is now a competitive selling point for all RPAS businesses and a fully functioning SMS demonstrates a responsible approach to identifying and managing the safety factors in this domain. This proactive ownership is an increasingly attractive and desirable characteristic for Regulators, Investors, Insurers, Partners and Clients.
What comprises a SMS?
A SMS is not a description of a piece of software. It is a ‘living, breathing being’ with a number of mutually supporting principles. The four main pillars of a SMS are:
- Safety Policy
- Safety Risk Management
- Safety Assurance
- Safety Promotion
These should be applied in a Plan – Do – Check – Act cycle, sometimes referred to as the Deming Cycle. This is designed to ensure an environment of continuous improvement by identifying safety weaknesses and applying the lessons learned. There are some other key elements though, the presence of which transform the effectiveness of the SMS.
To improve safety you need to have a clear picture of what is going well and what isn’t within the organisation. The critical component is data, but in what form, how do you collect it and how do you exploit what the data is telling you? These metrics provide a scientific view on the ground truth but the origin of this data must be the organisations staff. So how do you get them to report?
You can’t force staff to report, the best way to encourage them is twofold:
- Establish an organisational Safety Culture, which is a set of values, attitudes, and behaviours that prioritises safety and is owned at the highest level. Culture takes time to establish and nurture before the benefits start to manifest themselves so some strategic patience is required.
- At the heart of an effective safety culture is a reporting culture, also called a Just Culture. A just culture is a culture that encourages open reporting of incidents and near misses without fear of punishment. To facilitate that reporting activity, an organisation must create a reporting mechanism which enables that reporting and training on how to report.
In summary, if you want your drone business to flourish, then you should start to behave in way that places the pursuit of organisational safety at the forefront of your Business As Usual (BAU) activity. Safety can be the competitive advantage that sets you apart from the competition, but it takes time to get the momentum going for the benefits to be realised. If you have the patience and commitment though, now is the time to apply yourself.
Your safety assurance journey awaits……..