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Getting It Right

October 12, 2012  By Walter Heneghan

Texas City refinery (1947), Flixborough (1974), Ocean Ranger (1982), Piper Alpha (1988), Deep Water Horizon (2010).

Texas City refinery (1947), Flixborough (1974), Ocean Ranger (1982), Piper Alpha (1988), Deep Water Horizon (2010).

These major accidents in the petrochemical industry cost several hundred lives and laid the foundation for the creation of Safety Management Systems (SMS) and greater attention to processes, standard operating procedures and the development of “standards.”

The International Association of Oil and Gas Producers, the “OGP,” is probably the most well known among aviation operators for setting exacting standards. Helicopter operators who wish to conduct business with OGP members must meet these standards, which are verified via audit.

The OGP is immersed with assuring safety within its operations and demand that compliant safety and management systems be established by air carriers working for it. While most companies engage in some form of audit and due diligence reviews, the OGP companies are driving forces. Perhaps the best known is Houston-based, ISNetworld.


This database management firm requires air carriers to register with them and upload company policies so that they can be verified against the standards set forth by potential end-users.  Other industries elsewhere in Canada use other databases: CogniBox, Browz, ComplyWorks, PICS, CanQual are some of the others.

These online OHS compliance portals require that operators register their programs so that they can be evaluated and graded. This process theoretically allows for customers to go to one reliable portal to adequately “assess” an air carrier’s safety system. The fly in the ointment though is that these compliance farms do not really fit the aviation model. They are largely based on plant type processes, with reference to provincial or state or even U.S.-based legislative requirements or self-developed best practices, and they require a lot of resources to maintain.

Standards are tricky things. We all would like to work with those companies who share the same values, maintain the same standards and approach the job with the proper amount of seriousness and gravitas. The OGP is no different. The big issue though is how are these standards evaluated? All too often auditors “advise” operators that they would like to see a certain standard being met by using a specific process or even specific language in the company operations manual. Amending ops manuals can be a tedious process in itself; trying to set out language to appease a specific customer requirement is a slippery slope. This may work for a single client but what about the next audit? Or the one after that? It is possible to be asked to insert language to appease one client that is questioned by another, all while striving to comply with the same general safety standard. In my view, this process does not enhance safety and only serves to frustrate operators who really are engaged in active safety management. Audits promote safety awareness but there is no universal standard to meet. Depending on the industry, operators are faced with an OGP audit, or a BARS (Basic Aviation Risk Standard) audit, even IS-BAO (International Standard for Business Aviation Operations).

The HAI has recently adopted a new program, “HAI Accreditation,” based on the IS-BAO audit. This would involve a substantial and expensive audit process but would not eliminate the need for other major companies to audit the air carrier. So, an operator would prepare and pay for the audit, receive the certification and then need to be audited by the customer anyway in order for that client to meet its own legal, due diligence requirements!

Furthermore, there have been occasions when the client has a need for some helicopter work but its adherence to the OGP or its own standards is “inconvenient” or expensive. When these companies waive the requirements of their standards to allow the use of a non-compliant carrier or an operator who has not been audited, it undermines the commitment compliant carriers have made to their safety management systems.

This seems crazy to me. The OGP member companies need to set a standard, ensure that the member companies abide by the standard, and accept that the standard can still be met in a number of different ways. Asking operators to amend ops manuals to appease meeting a standard is not the answer. It does not enhance safety. At the end of the day, as one colleague has put it, “Our industry needs to put forth the best practices that will ensure the safety of our people and our clients . . . not the other way around.” Amen to that!

Walter Heneghan is the VP of Safety and Quality at Canadian Helicopters. A passionate advocate for aviation safety and sound risk management, the veteran pilot presents his regular column for Helicopters magazine.


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