Thursday, March 21, 2019

Resilience and SMS

Resilience and SMS
by Catalina9

Humans are built with the unique ability to bounce back when things go wrong. Resilience is one of the criteria for learning, improvements, goal achievements and comprehension. Machines or automation does not come with resilience or the ability to comprehend. When a process is without the ability to bounce back it will continue in a randomly selective direction. A process without resilience is like a bag of marbles being dropped on a level floor and they will travel in any random direction. A Safety Management System has resilience within the system itself with the capability for processes to take on the shape and direction as needed for safety improvements. However, when emotions, incomprehension or external forces are applied to SMS, the resilience is removed, and SMS takes on an irreversible direction moving away from safety. 

Train tracks are without resilience.

Resilience is critical to success in sports. A basketball player becomes a world class player by missing thousands of hoops. A downhill skier becomes a world class champion by falling over and over again. In the opinion of those who do not comprehend, any time the hoops are missed or a skier falls are viewed as failure or lack of skills and ability. In the eyes of the basketball player, skier or those who comprehend the sport, these failures are not failures but learning experiences of what does not work to win the gold medal. 

When a basketball player misses the hoop, the player learns how to improve the aim and when a skier falls, the downhill skier learns how to improve shifting center of gravity. There is no person in the world who can walk out on a basketball court for the first time and become a champion, or a downhill skier that puts on their skis for the first time to win the gold medal. SMS is in the same boat, but unqualified SMS personnel are still placed in SMS positions. No wonder SMS seems like a burden to airport or airline operators. An SMS without resilience is a system without continuous safety improvements, comprehension of SMS or expertise in leadership. 

The old way of SMS was to remove a piece of the puzzle
 and expect a complete picture
A Safety Management System with resilience is a system where functional area managers and technical expertise can access guidance material, decision making processes and directions when arriving at the fork in the road. SMS is a system that operates from within opposed to an external force acting on the system. The old way of doing safety was to punish past personal job performance with an assumption that this punishment would force an individual to take it upon themselves to establish goals and goal achievement plans. It was assumed by management and superiors that firing someone from their job would be a deterrent for other individuals to do the same damage. In addition, this old Safety Management System method enforced changes in behaviors based on opinions and without support of facts or data. The old way of SMS did not comprehend resilience and that quality personal job performance is proportional to training for skills development, information, knowledge and comprehension of the systems. The old way of safety is still alive in both large and small aviation organizations.

Some years ago, this blog wrote about resilience in automation: “When human errors are concealed in automation, these errors may not be correctable due to automation lack of performance resilience.” This statement was based on simple SMS principles with the application of a risk assessment with built-in decision-making processes. The Safety Management System was sold to the aviation industry as a system that would prevent, or even eliminate accidents. When an SMS is expected to prevent accidents, it could easily become a system that promotes accidents since the risk-assessment itself is a built-in complacent factor of the system. This does not imply that the operator skips their monitoring and follow-up process, but that these monitoring and follow-up processes are in its nature reactive. Automation has become the complacent factor in SMS and the forgotten link. Without applying the simple SMS principles to the development of software automation, there is a system without resilience flying the airplane.


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