Virtual Safety Standdown Highlights Safety Amid Struggle

 - October 22, 2020, 12:03 PM

Bombardier kicked off its day-long Safety Standdown seminar on Wednesday with the return of well-known and widely revered safety expert Dr. Tony Kern, who shared a message of turning the challenges, or the “battle” of life, into an opportunity for improvement and strengthening.

Usually held over a span of four days, the annual Safety Standdown typically has involved an opening reception followed by three days of keynotes and dozens of breakout sessions delving into the multiple facets of aviation safety issues. This year’s event, however, was spread out over a number of weeks, beginning with four “safety talks” that were released in August and September, culminating in four keynote sessions and the presentation of the annual Bombardier Safety Standdown Award condensed into a five-hour virtual seminar yesterday.

Andy Nureddin, v-p of customer support for Bombardier, welcomed attendees to the company’s first-ever virtual Safety Standdown. “The format is indeed much different this year,” he acknowledged. “The virtual format is particularly exciting because it helps create a broader sense of community [bringing] our safety message to more aviation professionals.”

Calling Safety Standdown one of the most comprehensive human factors safety events in the industry, Nureddin said the lessons of this year’s event, which carried a theme of “Safety in Focus 20/20,” is all the more important this year. “The past few months have challenged us in more ways than one, providing us with a unique opportunity to carefully analyze and bring all aspects of our operation into clearer focus safety at all.”

Kern, who is CEO of Convergent Performance, returned for his 24th Safety Standdown and is one of the perennial favorite keynotes. He discussed the “infinite battle” of how life is a series of challenges and how people need to recognize this and learn to fight through it rather than focusing on being victorious.

He added this is important in 2020 given the challenges confronting people during the Covid-19 pandemic. All the stressors associated with the virus absolutely play a role in aviation safety, he said. “Aviation professionals do not live in a bubble.”

Kern further said the essence of a battle is the transition between “who we are and who we're becoming,” and stressed this transition “is still the most important fight in our industry for survival and success.” While the Covid-19 pandemic can cloud vision, he cautioned that focus must remain on safety since aviation remains a high-risk industry. “Make no mistake about it. One mistake…can quickly escalate.”

While aviation professionals cannot control the pandemic, they can control their response to the stresses of the pandemic, he said.

“Let's thrive in the chaos that we've been given,” he added. “2020 offers us many opportunities. It gives us a chance to look deep at the gaps between our current performance and what we're capable of. It gives us an opportunity to commit or recommit, to improve in where we are with the resources at hand…We have the opportunity to stay committed, optimistic, and savor the challenge that we're building of our own design and the challenges of the world.”

Another favorite Standdown speaker, FBI special assistant to the chief information officer Amy Grubb, returned this year as well, providing a keynote on the “design thinking” approach to effect changes in organizational culture. She provided an outline of steps that could be taken and factors that must be taken into account in an effort to achieve cultural change. These include being aware that words matter. Grubb noted that people might not be enticed by the use of improving “safety,” but they may be motivated by improving “performance.”

Also, she said, change must be made as easy as possible. She gave the example of an organization that wanted to introduce recycling but had little success. The manager had placed a recycling bin out near his office, but several hangars away from where many of the would-be users worked. This served as a disincentive for those workers to recycle, she said.

In turn, she added that organizations should make the change hard for people not to do it.

Also, she cautioned managers to remember that the change is designed for the workers. Even if it is something fascinating and of interest to the manager, it might not be in the best interest of the worker. She also advised that it can be helpful to get fresh input from outside the industry or organization and that the outcome should be framed but not necessarily the solution—“there’s always more than one solution that people can use.”

Finally, she mentioned that managers need to reach common definitions of what success is and what safety means.

Appearing for the first time at Safety Standdown was Dr. Steven Stein, executive chair and founder of Multi-Health Systems who has provided consulting services to clients ranging from American Express and the Amazing Race Canada to Air Canada. Stein provided insight on emotional intelligence and how leaders of today exhibit the qualities of those with higher emotional intelligence, including they have the ability to express themselves, have good interpersonal decisions, are self-aware, make good decisions, handle stress well, and are flexible.

He discussed the differences between fixed mindsets and those that are more adaptable and open to inspiration. Stein noted that Top Gun pilots studied have shown to fall in the category of higher emotional intelligence and said these attributes can play an important role in safety leadership.

Rounding out Wednesday’s panel was this year’s Bombardier Safety Standdown Award winner, Antonio Cortés, who was recognized for his “outstanding leadership in aviation safety management.” A senior advisor (U.S., Canada, and South America) for GMR Aviation Consulting, Cortés, has been a long-time Safety Standdown supporter, delivering presentations and teaching workshops, along with serving as chair of the Safety Standdown Advisory Council.

His message centered on attentiveness and distractions. He opened with a reminder that the Safety Standdown was held on the 11th anniversary of the Northwest Airlines Flight 188 incident, which arrived late by more than one hour after overshooting its destination by more than 150 miles. NTSB cited distraction in that Oct. 21, 2009 incident.

Cortés outlined stages of attention, ranging from preoccupied, or lack of attentiveness; to the active and focused stages where a person is monitoring; to the absorbed stage that comes with channeled attention. He stressed that the ideal stages should be between active and focused, noting that both preoccupied and absorbed could be detrimental to safety.

He also highlighted that aviators are multi-taskers but warned, “You can truly only pay attention to one thing at a time,” and reminded of the importance of keeping the focus on the task at hand.

NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen also made an appearance during the day, lauding the consistent focus on safety regardless of the challenges that have been presented to the industry.