Helicopters Magazine

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Focusing the Safety Lens

January 26, 2017  By Walter Heneghan

Earlier in 2016, I listened to an inspiring interview with David Gregory, the former host of NBC News’ “Meet the Press” that truly informs this column. He was speaking of his time with the show and in the discussion he quoted the Book of Proverbs – “Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be true.”

My column in this issue of Helicopters has inspired me to veer from my normal path of ranting about safety to a more genteel perspective of contemplating a career oriented towards safety.  Every now and then, I am actually asked about a career path into the safety world by people who want to be involved from the outlook of their careers in building the requisite skill set for that path.  One could suggest – the path of their feet.

Most folks I know who fill safety manager roles “fell” into those roles, as did I. Some have been “voluntold” which in my view is a terrible solution, regardless of the needs of the company. Then there are pilots (mainly) who fill the safety shoes as a means to stay employed when their medicals expire – again not necessarily the best result. So, for a career in safety – how does wonder ponder the path? There is some formal safety training integrated into many of the more than 20 college programs offered around the country – BCIT, Mount Royal, Canadore, Seneca, Centennial and Georgian Colleges are some that come to mind. In addition, there are some top formal training safety specific programs.

The Viterbi School of Engineering at the University of Southern California offers an Aviation Safety & Security Certificate and System Safety Certificate; the Southern California Safety Institute (SCSI) offers a full slate of education including human factors, accident, flight data analysis and other safety specific training, and of course, for those of you with some industry experience, you may want to pursue higher level education via the masters program in human factors and system safety offered at Lund University in Sweden. Beyond these comprehensive formal degree or certificate courses, one can take safety manager’s courses at the Helicopter Association of Canada (HAC) or Helicopter Association International (HAI) conventions, which also provide a solid basis in safety and risk management.

Now, as part of the formal and ongoing training that occurs annually, pilots and AMEs receive Crew Resource Management (CRM) and Human Factors (HF) courses. Too many of these courses are taught (delivered is a better phrase), by uninterested and barely qualified presenters. Formal training as an adult educator and formal certification in these areas of knowledge should be necessary precursors for teaching these topics. Any of you who wish to pursue a career in “safety,” should strive to be as well read and expert in these areas as possible.


One area that is often left for safety managers to learn, often through the fiery lens of a Labour Canada inspection, are the basic safety requirements for running and maintaining an effective occupational health and safety program. This should not be the case. There are lots of formal programs available – many very good online options – and of course part time and full time education options. Frankly, as I wrote in a previous piece, too many companies are vulnerable in this area and unnecessarily expose their employees to risk and their operations to regulatory scrutiny.  Anyone of you with a foot in the OSH world is well on your way.

And finally, but really, firstly there is your own formal training as a dispatcher, ATC controller, airport operations specialist, flight attendant, aircraft mechanic or pilot. So much information is sent in your direction during your basic and advanced training that you necessarily need to concentrate on being as expert and knowledgeable as possible. But think about this – follow your training in your chosen trade with a perspective on safety. Learn what you are being taught thinking of safety.  Take your new skills and fresh perspectives and apply them in a safe manner, everyday, every time.  Enhance your competency through continuous improvement.

Be engaged in your personal behaviour, in all aspects of your life, with safety in mind. Turn away from unsafe practices. Correct unsafe practice and behaviours in others. Build companies that thrive on safe values, safe behaviour, safe practices. Do these things, Ponder these paths – then all your ways will be true. To safety.

Helicopters safety expert Walter Heneghan was employed by Canadian Helicopters Limited from 2001 until 2014 and worked in a number of positions including a line pilot based in Moosonee, Ont. safety manager for its EMS Division and as vice-president of safety for the company. The opinions expressed in this piece are his alone and are not representative of any company, former or current employer, or this publication.


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