Definition of Confidential Safety Reporting System

A confidential safety reporting system is a set of tools, people and processes used in an aviation safety management system (SMS) to allow aviation service providers' stakeholders to securely report safety issues to the aviation SMS' risk management team. As the name implies confidentiality, submitted safety issues are entrusted to SMS management teams with the expectation that safety teams protect sensitive or restricted information.

What is a Confidential Safety Reporting System in Plain English?

In aviation operations, there are many hazards that can adversely affect successful, safe operations. Whenever a safety concern is identified by stakeholders, stakeholders have a responsibility to report the safety concern to management. Management then has the responsibility to treat the reported safety issue using their documented risk management process, which will include:

  • Conduct a system's risk analysis;
  • Perform risk assessment;
  • Evaluate existing risk controls designed to mitigate the reported hazard; and
  • Take necessary actions to mitigate risk to as low as reasonably practical.

Since November 2006, aviation SMS has become a requirement for most aviation service providers around the world that operate within ICAO's member states. Every aviation service provider with an SMS will have a confidential safety reporting system to collect "system monitoring" exceptions that can be forwarded to management.

Based on the use case, the safety reporting system may have different tools available to the various stakeholders. In the aviation environment, stakeholders may be:

  • Company employees;
  • Management (all levels);
  • Customers;
  • Contractors, vendors or suppliers;
  • Auditors; or
  • Airport tenants.

As an example, company employees may report safety concerns using the company's Web-based safety reporting system, while customers may report safety issues using either:

  • Email; or
  • Publicly available Web-based safety reporting system.

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Tools Used in Confidential Safety Reporting System

In traditional safety programs, the most common means of reporting safety concerns to management is by using paper-based reporting forms. The first step is for the employee or customer to acquire the paper-form. In aviation operations that span multiple regions and/or countries, managing paper-based safety reporting forms is both inefficient and fraught with risk.

The problem with paper-based reporting forms is that once a user submits the safety report, management has no assurance it will be processed in a timely manner. Furthermore, how can the reporter be assured that the report will reach the proper management team? The feedback loop in most paper-based systems is either:

  • non-existent; or
  • inefficient and inconsistently applied.

With modern technology, most operators today have a Web-based safety reporting system that

  • collects information about the reporter's safety concern;
  • enters the safety report into the risk management database for further processing;
  • notifies safety team that a new report has entered the SMS' safety reporting system; and
  • sends confirmation "Thank you" email to the original reporter.

An automated safety reporting system collects the safety report and automatically enters the report into the SMS database. The reporting system manages the notifications to alert management and to send a confirmation email to the reporter, whenever this is possible. There are some use cases where it will become impossible to communicate to the original reporter. These use cases include:

  • Reporter wishes to remain anonymous; or
  • Reporter neglects to provide accurate contact information when reporting the safety concern.

Most modern aviation safety reporting systems have an anonymous reporting feature that protects the reporter. Alternatively, some safety reporting systems have a "confidential" setting that reporters can select to indicate to management that "this is a sensitive safety issue." In this case, the aviation service provider will treat this issue according to their documented risk management processes.

Methods to Report Safety Concerns

It is in the best interest of every operator for all stakeholders to have an easy, user-friendly method of reporting safety concerns. After all, these safety reports are instrumental in reducing risk and improving the operating processes.

To reduce the friction that keeps employees and stakeholders from reporting safety concerns, it makes sense to provide different safety reporting tools to stakeholders based on the role they play in the SMS. In the past, paper-based reporting forms were the only option to report safety concerns. Today, the most common method to report safety concerns is by using a secure Web application that can be accessed anytime and anywhere the reporter has Internet access. Below are references to common safety reporting tools found in the aviation industry to collect confidential safety reports.

List of Data Management Tools in Confidential Safety Reporting System

List of Data Management Tools in Confidential Safety Reporting System Web-based Safety Reporting for Company Users Email Reporting for Customers, Vendors, Tenants and Employees Without Accounts Public Reporting for Customers, Vendors, Tenants and Employees without Accounts Offline Safety Reporting Supports Paper-based Safety Reporting

Safety Reporting System Extended to Other Concerns

An aviation SMS is required by most aviation service providers. However, there is no requirement for operators to have an SMS database to store safety reports, except for operators in the European Union operating under the EASA jurisdiction. EASA requires a database to store submitted safety reports as they have justly agreed that spreadsheets are not the proper technology to manage reported safety concerns.

For the sake of efficiency, aviation service providers use the aviation SMS database to collect more than simple safety reports. There is a trend to use the aviation SMS' confidential safety reporting system to collect other types of operations-related reports that are outside the scope of the aviation SMS. This is a logical evolution of formal aviation SMS implementations. First, the operator will focus on safety events, and then soon realize that the scope can be extended to capture other types of reports, including:

  • Security;
  • Quality;
  • Environmental;
  • HR;
  • Operational; and
  • Compliance.

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