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 OCCURENCE, 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 occurence) is damages

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

It's extremely important to be clear about what type of risk you mean when you are discussing safety concerns. Ideally, you will should understand what risk is being discussed based on the context of the conversation. Simply beign 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 occurence, see this great article on Relationship between a hazard and risk occurence in SMS