What Is a Risk in Aviation Safety Management Systems (SMS)

"Risk" is a vague term that often leads to confusion in risk management programs, because there are actually two ways to talk about risk. On the one hand, "Risk" IN GENERAL is a composite of predicted severity and likelihood of safety mishap. We also talk about risk in the sense of SPECIFIC RISK, or RISK OCCURRENCE, which is a safety mishap/accident/etc. that (can) result from hazard occurrence.

Here are the important markers of each type of "risk":

  • RISK IN GENERAL is the risk matrix, which uses a composite of severity and risk to predict, document, and organize incidents
  • SPECIFIC RISK (risk occurrence) is damages

One common misconception about risk occurrence is that hazard occurrence leads to risk occurrence. Risk occurrence CAN happen as a result of hazard occurrence, but only when there are inferior or nonexisting risk controls in place to prevent the hazard occurrence from escalating, or due to Human Factors. Otherwise, many hazardous situations are successfully mitigated from becoming risk occurrences every day.

It's extremely important to be clear about what type of risk you mean when you are discussing safety concerns. Ideally, you should understand what risk is being discussed based on the context of the conversation. Simply being aware of the two sides of risk will help you be mindful of the conversation's context, and avoid confusion.

For more information about what a hazard is, and its relationship with hazard mechanism and risk occurrence, see this great article on Relationship between a hazard and risk occurrence in SMS