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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Safety Culture Spreads in UK Military

By Andrew Drwiega, International Bureau Chief

The success of the United Kingdom’s Military Aviation Authority (MAA) is being regarded as a model for wider application of its principles across all arms of the military with the planned creation of a Defense Safety Authority. “We publish without approval – we don’t let other people mark our homework,” said the director general of the UK’s MAA, Air Marshal Dick Garwood. Speaking at a briefing to the Air Power Association, at the RAF Club in London, Garwood was reporting on how the MAA had developed since it was established in April 2011 in response to the Haddon-Cave Nimrod XV230 review.

This review by was triggered when a Royal Air Force (RAF) Nimrod MR2 exploded while on a mission over Afghanistan on Sept. 2, 2006, killing all 14 personnel on board. Among the findings of the subsequent investigation led by a senior British judge, Sir Charles Haddon-Cave, were that aircraft safety concerns had been overlooked to cut costs, which had resulted in a “systemic breach of the military covenant.”

Now Garwood reports directly to the Secretary of State, not the Chief of the Defense Staff or any military superior. Garwood stated that he did not believe that the MAA’s work had developed an insidious safety culture and, if anything, “the pendulum has swung slightly back after stringent safety application since 2011.” Now, he added, “we enforce the rules, which has come as a slight shock to some.” But he revealed that time between fatalities had significantly improved, averaging one fatality every five months to one every nine months although the last fatality had been nearly two years ago. Garwood said there was now a wider culture of understanding operating risk against operational risk. “Safety does not get in the way of operational freedoms – we can go to war,” he asserted.

Overall, Garwood said that people within the military now understood risk and that there was accountability. “You can’t quantify value for money, but the culture is changing. Duty holders and operators are compliant but we have some way to go with duty holder facing organizations.” He said that around 12,000 reports per year were being generated and that his organization was continually improving how they were received and used. The main question on safety that everyone needs to ask, he says is: “Have you done all that is reasonable to do?” The ongoing strategic air safety risk that MAA is studying involves the potential for mid-air collisions, the shortfall in suitably qualified and experience persons (SQEPs), the cumulative effect of defense change initiatives and the effect of the redeployment home of forces in Afghanistan.

Related: Military News

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