Operational safety cases for drones, Part 6 – Balancing the safety components

Once you have examined each of your safety components it is time to pull them together to see how they interconnect with each other. There is a simple rule here; the more mitigation you have and the more balanced they are between People, Platform and Processes, the more robust the safety case.

The Importance of Equality

To understand this principle fully, it is sometimes best to see where it might go wrong. As an example, if you purchase the best drone money can buy and demonstrated the most comprehensively available procedures for managing your operational risk you will weaken your argument if you cannot offer the people component (remote pilot) with the skills and proficiency to effectively manage the flight. In doing this, you negate the advantage you have in buying the best drone and having the most optimal procedures. You will arrive at the same conclusion if you change the equation by switching the weakness to one of the other safety components.

Only you can fully represent that balance and must strive to make them as equal as you can realistically make it for the submission to be successful. If they are not, then the CAA review team will spot the weakness immediately.

The Safety ‘Sweet Spot’

We have established that safety components should all overlap and support each other throughout the safety case. In a Venn diagram of this, the portion where they overlap is the safety ‘sweet spot’. This is where your safety case resides, where the risk in your operations in congested areas will be contained and managed successfully.

The bigger the overlap the more robust your safety case and ultimately, the safer your operation. The only way to increase the overlap is to introduce as many safety features and mitigation as you can. As this progresses the closer the circles move towards the middle until, in theory, they should merge into one big circle. This is safety perfection – theoretically impossible to achieve – but is an end state that we should all aspire to and work hard to realise.

Marginal Gains

To understand the systemic approach to building these overlaps it is worth looking at the example of Team Sky and GB Cycling principle, Sir Dave Brailsford. Brailsford has created success for his teams through the application of a revolutionary methodology, ‘the aggregation of marginal gains’. The underlying principle is that, instead of relying on a single factor to achieve success, progress is made across the whole spectrum of performance by making small, sometimes minute, improvements across a wide range of factors and then aggregating them into a collective effect. The outcome of this is a winning formula that translates into significant performance improvements.

Brailsford’s approach was that to understand fully where those marginal gains can be made, you must scrutinise your whole operation by breaking it down into manageable chunks and addressing each in turn. All of the areas have a symbiotic relationship with each other and any weakness significantly diminishes the collective performance.

The same applies with an Operational Safety Case. As an operator, you must look for opportunities to make marginal gains in your baseline organisational risk by breaking down the safety question into bite-sized chunks and making small improvements to each. For instance, if the proficiency of your remote pilot(s) is not as good as it could be, you could look to provide extra training or CPD to improve their Knowledge, Skills and Attributes (KSA). Similarly, if your drone has identified Single Point of Failures (SPOFs) you could add safety feature equipment or other components to counter this weakness. If your urban cordon procedures are not robust enough, you could revisit them and workshop them through to a better solution.

There are always ways to improve your safety case. Bring together your safety components and start to look for those marginal gains. Ultimately, they will all start to add up to a safety argument that is greater than the sum of the parts.

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