Operational Safety is our most critical priority as a business, which is why we’re introducing Safety 2 – a new approach that takes a far broader view of safety improvement than we’ve ever done before.

I spoke to Head of Safety Strategy Development, Dr Sam Espig get an insight into the reasons behind the change and the benefits it will bring.

Our record on safety has improved over the past 20 years – what’s the thinking behind the change?

We’ve been using Safety 1 methodology for the past two decades. Essentially, it has involved focusing our efforts towards and eliminating failures, identifying the causes of these failures and designing them out as a first priority, or alternatively reducing their likelihood or consequence.

We now have historically low incident and occurrence rates and our safety performance is general regarded as very good. This success is largely down to the application of Safety 1.

London Area Control

London Area Control

Now, due to the success of Safety 1, we are running out of incidents to count and the remaining incidents that are left tend to be random, so they are not representative of the operation. These events are unlikely to occur again and any mitigation we identify through Safety 1 is unlikely to be effective and could even make the system less safe, as it is over burdened with workaround procedures and becomes too brittle and inflexible.

This situation is also likely to get more tricky to work with in future. So, if we are to continue to improve our safety performance we need a complementary alternative approach which is called Safety 2.

So what’s different about Safety 2?

Safety 2 is about focusing on making as many things as possible go right rather than reducing the number of things that go wrong. It is about understanding how and why day-in day-out we are able to provide a safe service and using this new richer understanding to improve our safety performance.

Can you give us any examples of how that might work in practice?

On days when there are no incidents, Safety 2 forces us to not just pat ourselves on the back for a job well done, but to ask ‘how did we do that?.

Safety 2 promotes a need to understand everyday work. It is about understanding performance variation, it is about understanding how the system copes with abnormal events. It promotes a total system view and the application of system thinking approaches. Through Safety 2, the more we understand about performance the more we understand about safety.

London Terminal Control

London Terminal Control

Investigations would not be limited to incidents but would be extended to include situations when the system was subject to abnormal events but where nothing happened from a safety perspective. We would investigate to identify the good practices that meant the system was resilient to the event. Investigation of incidents would go beyond the identification of ‘human error’ and also identify the systemic changes that are necessary to prevent the event occurring again.

Our performance measures would continue to be failure focused but would be supplemented by safety 2 performance measures. These might include more sector specific safety measures that for example monitoring the number of safety related clearances issued per hour to help staff to objectively understand the effects of traffic increases on a sector on safety to anticipate when safety is being eroded.

Will Safety 2 also help as we introduce new technology and airspace changes in the coming years?

Definitely and it’s another reason why we felt we needed a change of approach.

When running simulations of new airspace change or new technologies, we would be able to utilise our safety 2 performance measures to allow staff to compare the results from one airspace design or technology improvement with another and understand the differing safety benefit and objectively select which design was the most appropriate given the capacity and environmental trade-offs.

So does that mean our approach to safety will change completely?

No. We should and must continue to apply Safety 1 in our business, not only because we are required by our regulator and European legislation but because it is has proven to be a highly effective means of reducing our safety risk.

How would you summarise the benefits of Safety 2?

Safety 2 is about being more anticipatory and objective in our safety decision making. It is about aligning the business with safety and developing more efficient and resilient operations.


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