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I have long waxed poetic about the potential benefits of an industry-wide approach to Safety Management Systems (SMS). Well, watch out everybody – because here it comes!


July 12, 2007
By Geoff Goodyear

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I have long waxed poetic about the potential benefits of an
industry-wide approach to Safety Management Systems (SMS). Well, watch
out everybody – because here it comes!

One
truly does need to be careful what one wishes for. As we speak,
statutory SMS is already a reality for some of our airline colleagues
and should be making an appearance in our 702-703 world in a year or
two.

My first unwitting exposure to the Safety Management
process came when I was a weekend warrior training with the Airborne
Regiment in Edmonton. I could only imagine the initial risk analysis
that went on at National Defence Headquarters: define the hazard. “We
want to throw healthy, marginally intelligent soldiers out of an
airplane.” The risk would be defined as, “They will leave rather large
holes in the ground upon landing. We will give them parachutes. That
should prevent any divots!” It was at this point I was given a large
cumbersome packsack with lots of heavy string, and sent to Edmonton.

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The
ensuing process was one of extended periods of hard physical training
followed by periods of unbridled terror. We trained for several weeks
and were becoming anxious to crawl aboard any airplane and get on with
it. Finally, our platoon waddled aboard the Hercules with the usual
nervous laughter and forced bravado that comes from such situations.
The bravado was not due to testosterone levels, as the webbing from the
harness cut off the circulation of all blood and hormones from the
nether regions. It was not a comfortable existence and I tell you now
that paratroopers do not jump out of a sense of duty, but only to
minimize the time spent in their harnesses.

My first revelation
came as I watched my colleagues line up at the open door of the
Hercules. The ‘go’ light illuminated and this line of clumsy green men
began to fall out the door. I anticipated seeing bodies falling down
from the aircraft with chutes deploying as they descended. Hollywood
rubbish! Think about it. You are stepping out into a 150-mph slipstream
in one direction, from an aircraft moving at 150 mph in the opposite
direction. I did not have time to rationalize what I was witnessing
before I was at the door threshold and GONE. It was a terribly violent,
exciting experience and the memory is as vivid now as it was then.

Toward
the end of the course we had the opportunity to do a night jump. At
this point we knew what to expect and we had developed a faith, however
misplaced, in our equipment. Going out the door at night was an
incredible experience. All the noise of kit preparation and shuffling
to the aircraft door, all around you bathed in red light, Jumpmasters
yelling to be heard over the engines, and then… stepping into the
abyss. Your chute opens and there is no noise now except the popping of
the chutes of your platoon mates. Everything around you goes silent and
still. It is difficult to detect your own movement and while you can
see the ground you have no depth perception.

It was time to go
home and I was in a hotel lobby waiting for the airport shuttle.
Standing very proudly in my CF greens, spit polish shoes, new gold
parachute wings on my chest, I kept an upward angle on my chin and a
downward angle on my gaze as I observed the mere mortals milling about
the area. At this point a little old lady sauntered up and insisted
that as I was obviously the bus driver, the least I could do was help
her with her luggage. I never even got a tip.

There are several
morals here which might apply to SMS. Preconceived notions can be a
setup for shock. Keep an open mind as we navigate through SMS
implementation. The more you can do now to plug in and inform yourself,
the more you will eliminate a lot of shock when you are standing at the
edge of that door. The other moral is, if you are ever wearing a
uniform, give little old ladies a wide berth. They are bad for the ego.

Bottom
line…. I think SMS will be a good thing for our industry. It will help
us lower our accident rate and give us credibility with our clients and
suppliers.

I wouldn’t worry about it anyway. By the time SMS
gets around to us, Transport Canada’s implementation team will be a
well-oiled machine, all operators will be willing and knowledgeable
participants in this grand scheme, birds will be singing, the Leafs
will win the cup and income tax will be abolished.

I don’t think
anyone expects it to go without any hiccups, but by informing yourself
and plugging in now, the abyss may not be as deep or as dark as it
appears.


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