CHC Safety Summit preview: Neil Richardson on refocusing SMS

In advance of this year’s CHC Safety & Quality Summit, Oct. 1 to 3 in Dallas, Texas, we asked some of the speakers to give us a preview of what they’ll be sharing with summit attendees. Here, Neil Richardson of Baines Simmons visits with us about how the subject of risk has “hijacked” the original goal of safety management systems (SMS). Click here to learn more about the summit and here to register.


Vertical: How did you get involved with safety?

Neil Richardson: If honest, I first felt I wanted to be involved with safety around 20 years ago but didn’t really know what that actually meant at that time. I made it a priority to speak with like-minded people across the aviation industry and those discussions ultimately lead to me joining Baines Simmons in 2005. In my role as principal consultant for Safety Management Systems (SMS), I help a variety of organizations build, implement and refine their SMS for optimal results.

Vertical: Tell us about your presentation at the CHC Safety & Quality Summit. What will you be focusing on?

NR: My presentations is about refocusing the intent of SMS. There is a lot of “noise” in the SMS world right now and there appears to be a fascination with calculating risk supported by compelling “risk” tools. The subject of risk appears to have hijacked the goal of SMS and has the potential to turn it into a number and colors game as opposed to a systems, people, and cultural matter. I believe that we are in danger of losing sight of the problem SMS was designed to solve and need to all align to a common aim. It would be a tragedy if a misunderstanding contributed to a future accident.

Neil Richardson is principal consultant for SMS at Baines Simmons. CHC Photo

Vertical: What is one surprising thing you’ll be sharing with attendees?


NR: Hmm, “surprising” is in the eye of the beholder I guess. All I can say is that some things I have to say do butt heads with current guidance. It is all too easy to do what the regulator says but who says the tools required capture the latest thinking and actually support the intent of SMS. If they do not, the fear is that SMS may fail at the first hurdle.

Vertical: Who do you think should attend your presentation, and why?

NR: This presentation has something for everyone in the aviation industry. I am sure they will all be able to take something from it as it is designed to make us all pause and think about what we are doing and why.

Vertical: What is one change you would make to improve safety in the helicopter industry?

NR: This goes beyond the helicopter industry but it would be to align to a common goal. There is much noise and diverse opinion around SMS (particularly the over-used aspect of risk) and yet we are aiming to create a performance-based environment which requires the entire industry to be aligned in thinking. Keeping it simple is a key aspect to the future success of SMS.

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