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What is Reactive Risk Management

Reactive risk management has a poor reputation amongst many aviation safety professionals. A common misconceptions is that SMS programs should be moving from reactive risk management towards more “advanced” forms of management. It’s extremely important that all employees understand that reactive risk management is extremely valuable to all aviation SMS programs.

Reactive risk management simply involves the ability to respond quickly to safety events. By definition, it is a response based approach to risk. This means that reactive safety management is practiced after a risk has occurred. This is sometimes described as “firefighting,” though I think “stress testing” is closer to the mark because responding to events measures an SMS program’s:

A few important things to understand about reactive risk management are:

  • There can be good and bad reactive safety management;
  • Valuable for aviation safety programs of all maturity levels, from both new and mature programs;
  • Involves specific types of actions and behavior; and
  • Can be a fantastic risk control with the right preparation (i.e. training).

Reactive techniques should be actively cultivated and evaluated in every program.

What is reactive risk management?

When to Use Reactive Risk Management in Aviation SMS Programs

Different situations will require different actions on the part of employees and management. In non-risk situations, such as everyday operations, proactive risk management should be the primary mode of operation.

However, practicing proactive risk management is often impossible, impractical, or even unadvisable. Some situations that exemplify when specifically to practice reactive safety management are:

  • Aviation SMS training courses based on decision making;
  • After a risk has occurred; and
  • In newer SMS programs without the requisite experience/data for proactive management activities.

Again, reactive techniques can be good or bad. Poor decision making preparedness results in the kind of reactive risk management that is stereotyped as bad.

But quality response techniques and decision making ability are a considerable asset to every organization. They demonstrate the kind of reactive risk management that is desirable for any aviation safety program.

Why Your SMS Program Needs to Have Good Reactive Strategies

Aviation safety programs that don’t have quality reactive strategies expose themselves to considerable risk. Even mature safety programs that exhibit high quality proactive strategies but have not developed quality reactive strategies will be plagued by an inability to mitigate safety events once they occur. In such a program, risks that do occur will constantly result in undesirable events and avoidable consequences.

Ultimately, your program needs strong reactive safety management techniques in order to:

Who Practices Responsive Risk Management?

It’s important to remember that reactive risk management happens at every single level of an organization – not just with front-line employees or just with management:

  • Front line employees will need to actively respond to risks and sudden dangers in a way that ameliorates the problem;
  • Safety executives of the safety program will need to make split second decisions that can have wide-ranging consequences on safety; and
  • Safety management will need to monitor and improve responsiveness abilities.

Employees should always understand that risk is managed by every employee, and not just by “management.”

How to Improve Reactive Risk Management

Improving the ability of your aviation SMS program’s employees to respond  involves actively working on safety culture in the following ways:

  • Reactive risk management training;
  • Human factors training;
  • Training about decision making neurology;
  • Providing employees with many risk management tools, such as checklists, mobile hazard reporting, etc.; and
  • Just Culture and transparency regarding discussing past safety issues and how decisions impacted those issues.

One of the primary reasons we see safety programs get into trouble is because they don’t actively discuss decision making in their program, and/or don’t spend the resources on reactive training in favor of spending resources on proactive training.

In order to improve the decision making ability and responsiveness of employees, an organizations needs to understand that reactive and proactive are equally valuable.

Final Thought: What Reactive Safety Management is NOT

It’s useful to point out what reactive risk management is not so that you have a reference point to compare. Conceptually, it’s NOT:

  • A lesser form of risk management;
  • A hallmark of new safety programs (it’s present in all safety programs);
  • Only relevant to immature safety programs; and
  • A waste of time and money to train and discuss.

The above points are just some of the stereotypes to hold aviation safety programs back from  best-in-class safety performance.