Safety Surveys

Safety Surveys


Safety Survey - a systematic review, to recommend improvements where needed, to provide assurance of the safety of current activities, and to confirm conformance with applicable parts of the safety management system. (ESARR3)


To examine procedures or processes related to a specific operation and provide a flexible and cost-effective method to identify areas for safety improvement within the aviation service provider organisation.

Regulatory Provisions

Although there is no explicit International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) recommendation to the aviation service provider organisations to schedule and conduct safety surveys, these are considered best practice.

The provisions in Regulation 2017/373 - Requirements for providers of ATM/ANS and other ATM network functions and their oversight and in ESARR 3 mandate air traffic service providers to carry out safety surveys within the scope of their safety assurance activities. Safety surveys shall be carried out as a matter of routine. (see Further Reading),


Surveys are complementary to incident investigation, since they examine systems under normal conditions to identify weaknesses that have not yet been seen to contribute directly or indirectly to a safety occurrence. Also, the role of a safety survey is quite similar to the one performed by quality audits in quality management systems. Both activities are conducted to check compliance with standards (or targets) and procedures, detect problems and facilitate the identification of solutions and improvements.

Safety surveys generally are cost-effective, easy to administer and flexible method for identifying hazards by sampling the workforce opinion within an organisation. Surveys are used as a safety monitoring tool to assess whether an existing situation or organisational aspect is satisfactory. Surveys may also be used to review particular areas of safety concerns where hazards are suspected, therefore they can be important part of the hazard identification process within the SMS. In all cases, the principles and procedures when conducting a safety survey are the same.

Conducting a Safety Survey

The safety surveys are usually independent of routine inspections and safety audits by government or organisation’s management. Aviation service providers may choose to conduct safety surveys at regularly planned intervals or ad-hoc.

Safety surveys should be carried out internally and conducted by independent and adequately trained personnel. Since ‘independent’ would normally mean independent of the area being surveyed, different ways might be suggested to achieve independence. The most common options would be using specific personnel, cross-auditing and external support. The safety manager of the organisation should head up safety surveys and be responsible for the recruitment, training and review of the personnel conducting this activity.

The surveys can review operational units, particular operational and engineering activities or facilities. Surveys should also be performed to review SMS processes established to meet regulatory requirements. The objectives are to assess factors affecting safety of operations, significant activities and SMS safety processes, and to facilitate the identification of corrective actions wherever necessary.

According to ICAO Doc 9859 - Safety Management Manual, the common principles and procedures that need to be followed when conducting a safety survey are:

  • Objectives - the goal of the survey should be clearly declared for all intended respondents.
  • Sample size - should be sufficient to permit valid conclusions to be drawn from the information collected.
  • Neutral and unbiased - the survey is best to be conducted through the use of checklists, questionnaires and interviews as necessary, in a way that will encourage openness of the participants.
  • Reducing risk of bias - the random selection of the participants will help reducing the risk of receiving biased information.
  • Formulating and sequencing survey questions - open-ended questions requiring narrative responses should be avoided in surveys. Rather, questions should elicit specific responses (which can be scored). These might include evaluating an opinion along some predetermined scale, e.g. from strongly disagree, through neither agree nor disagree, to completely agree.
  • Prior coordination - should be made with the authorities governing the target respondents, unions and professional associations.
  • Assurance of confidentiality - regarding the information collected through the survey.

Some other factors that ICAO suggest for consideration when conducting a survey are to obtain the cooperation of the people involved, avoid perception of “witch-hunt” and to respect the operational experience of target respondents.

Surveys have a particular application when an organisation is undergoing significant change. A careful consideration of the ongoing major changes and the nature of the operations, of the systems and procedures used must be given when selecting the time frame for surveys, such as Line Operations Safety Audit (LOSA) and Normal Operations Safety Survey (NOSS).

Surveys and programmes, such as LOSA, NOSS and Flight Data Monitoring are used to sample normal operations activities and provide useful normative data for analysis of the daily operations, providing to the organisation proactive tools for hazard identification and safety improvement.

Results to be Expected

Generally the line personnel are aware where the areas of risk are. Line managers and operational staff typically have best perceptions of where to look for risks and areas for improvement in their fields of responsibility. Surveys completed by operational personnel can provide important diagnostic information about daily operations and valuable insight into the:

  • Perceptions and opinions of operational personnel;
  • Level of teamwork and cooperation among various employee groups;
  • Problem areas or bottlenecks in daily operations;
  • Corporate safety culture;
  • Current areas of dissent or confusion.

It is important for the organisation to fully realise that safety surveys can be obstructed by subjectivism. That is why close attention is needed when producing the safety survey report and interpreting the results from it. The bias can be found not only in the participant’s opinion but also during the creation and interpretation processes.

Managing the Survey Results

According to ICAO Doc 9859 - Safety Management Manual, data gathering and analysis, development of the recommendations and preparation of the final survey report takes considerable amount of time. That is why, it is desirable to conduct a briefing with those responsible as soon as the survey has been completed and if any conclusions are immediately available, they should be discussed informally.

The recommendations, stemming from the survey should be sensible and not over-reactive in nature and they should be within the scope and ability of the organisation. The validity of all survey information obtained may need to be verified before corrective action is taken. According to ICAO, the sensitive issues should not be avoided, but care should be taken to ensure that they are presented in a fair, constructive and diplomatic manner.

Further Reading


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