In Aviation Being Average is Never Good Enough

Paging through the May 2013 Consumer Reports, a small article on page 11 titled “U.S. hospitals still not safe” caught my attention. The article explained how more hospitals in the U.S. are required to track and report safety data, and it provided a summary and a few rankings based on a 100-point scale. The average score was 49; highest 72 and the lowest score mentioned was 14. As commented in the article, when it comes to health care, average should never be good enough …

The aviation industry has been collecting safety, quality, and risk management data for a long time: audit and inspection rankings, safety program data, dispatch reliability, human error tracking, and more. Internal company organizations are routinely audited and ranked using this data, and selection of service providers is based in part on audit and inspection data. Audits don’t necessarily tell the entire story about an organization, but they do provide data that can be used when making business, selection, or continuous improvement decisions.

I’m not a health care professional and understand a comparison between aviation service providers and hospitals regarding safety, quality, and risk management is perhaps not an easy or even fair comparison. But the article did prompt me to think these two industries share some similarities: both have risk; both have high consequences when something goes wrong; and both are highly regulated. Would you be satisfied using an aviation service provider or maintenance organization who scored average or below on a safety or compliance audit? Of course we wouldn’t. When it comes to aviation being average is never good enough and we constantly strive for 100 percent.

Also mentioned in this report were teaching hospitals, which are supposed to prepare future doctors, are lagging. The report stated almost two-thirds of the nation’s teaching hospitals that have a safety score ranked below average. Would we be satisfied attending a maintenance or pilot training school (which are supposed to prepare future AMTs and pilots) knowing these teaching institutions score below average on an industry safety assessment? Again, no we wouldn’t.

It’s been my experience a score of half resulting from any audit, inspection, or risk assessment would sound numerous alarms. When aircraft dispatch reliability drops down to 90 percent owners, passengers, and customers become highly upset. When the metrics used to track safety and quality trend slightly in the wrong direction the people involved work toward a comprehensive fix. Adherence to safety practices and compliance to procedures is part of our regular routine. We should all be proud we are not average and part of an industry that routinely scores near 100 percent in safety and quality.