This week’s Pipeliners Podcast episode features John DeLeeuw talking about what pipeliners can learn from the aviation industry’s Aviation Safety Action Program.
In this episode, you will learn about the similarities between the aviation and pipeline industries with the common goal of fewer incidents. Russel and Mr. DeLeeuw also discuss the benefits of a safety culture, how to get change buy-in from stakeholders, and how self-reporting incidents creates a safer industry.
Aviation Safety Applied to Pipeline Safety: Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms
- John Deleeuw is the Managing Director of Safety and Efficiency at American Airlines. Connect with John DeLeeuw on LinkedIn.
- American Airlines, Inc. is a major US-based airline headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, within the Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex. It is the world’s largest airline when measured by fleet size, scheduled passengers carried, and revenue passenger mile.
- FAA (Federal Aviation Administration): The continuing mission of the FAA is to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world.
- ASAP report (Aviation Safety Action Program report): The goal of the Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) is to enhance aviation safety through the prevention of accidents and incidents. Its focus is to encourage voluntary reporting of safety issues and events that come to the attention of employees of certain certificate holders.
- ARC Airlines Reporting Corporation: ARC’s primary function is to support the travel industry by providing transaction settlement between travel suppliers and resellers. The corporation also accredits travel agencies in the United States to sell airline tickets, and provides data information services and analysis based on archived aggregated data.
- SMS Safety Assurance Program: is the formal, top-down, organization-wide approach to managing safety risk and assuring the effectiveness of safety risk controls. It includes systematic procedures, practices, and policies for the management of safety risk. SMS introduces an evolutionary process in system safety and safety management. SMS is a structured process that obligates organizations to manage safety with the same level of priority that other core business processes are managed. This applies to both internal (FAA) and external aviation industry organizations (Operator & Product Service Provider).
- ATSAP (Air Traffic Safety Action Program): helps resolve safety issues that otherwise might not have been identified or resolved. The FAA modeled ATSAP after another voluntary safety reporting system used by selected air carriers known as the Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP).
- High Performance HMI is an advanced level Human-Machine Interface system that feeds data from a computer to the operator to make informed decisions. High-Performance HMI extends the capabilities of SCADA in pipeline operations and complies with the ISA 101 requirement by providing an HMI philosophy, style guide, and design guide.
- Alarm management is the process of ensuring that the alarms are optimally selected, designed, prioritized, and documented. In practice, each operator should take a holistic approach to alarm management, including policy and procedure for alarm rationalization, alarm logging, alarm-related shift handover actions, alarm analysis, compliance, and continual improvement of the alarm management program. The PHMSA Control Room Management Rule (49 CFR Parts 192 and 195) and API 1167 provide guidance on implementing an alarm management program.
- SCADA is a system of software and technology that allows pipeliners to control processes locally or at remote location. SCADA breaks down into two key functions: supervisory control and data acquisition. Included is managing the field, communication, and control room technology components that send and receive valuable data, allowing users to respond to the data.
- API (American Petroleum Institute) (api.org) API represents all segments of America’s oil and natural gas industry. Its nearly 600 members produce, process and distribute most of the nation’s energy. The industry supports millions of U.S. jobs and is backed by a growing grassroots movement of millions of Americans. API was formed in 1919 as a standards-setting organization. In our first 100 years, API has developed more than 700 standards to enhance operational and environmental safety, efficiency and sustainability.
Aviation Safety Applied to Pipeline Safety: Full Episode Transcript
Russel Treat: Welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast, episode 226, sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute, driving safety, environmental protection, and sustainability across the natural gas and oil industry through world-class standards and safety program. Since its formation as a standard-setting organization in 1919, API has developed more than 700 standards to enhance industry operations worldwide. Find out more about API at api.org.
Announcer: The Pipeliners Podcast, where professionals, Bubba geeks, and industry insiders share their knowledge and experience about technology, projects, and pipeline operations. Now, your host, Russel Treat.
Russel: Thanks for listening to the Pipeliners Podcast. I appreciate you taking the time, and to show that appreciation, we’re giving away a customized YETI tumbler for one listener every episode.
This week, our winner is Randall Tack with Westover Express Pipeline. Congratulations, Randall, your YETI is on its way. To learn how you can win this signature prize, stick around to the end of the episode.
This week, we’re doing something a little different. John DeLeeuw is joining us to talk to us about what pipeliners can learn from the Aviation Safety Action Program.
John, welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast.
John DeLeeuw: Thank you, Russel. I’m glad to be here. Thank you for the invite.
Russel: We’ve been trying to get this done for a while. I’ve already teed this up with the listeners a little bit in the intro, but why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background, and how you got into aviation safety.
John: I will. Thank you, Russel. I graduated from the University of Arizona in the ’80s. Then, I joined the US military, flew for the United States Air Force for 10 years, the C 130, primarily special operations, and got out of the Air Force.
I’ve been flying for American Airlines now for about a little more than 30 years. I flew 727s, something called the Super 80s. Currently, I fly the 787 Dreamliner, which is an international flight, international aircraft.
Obviously, with COVID, not flying as much, but I’ve always been in the pilot flying business. Then, about 15 years ago, I got into the safety realm. I’ve done many different things within both the company as well as in the labor association on safety. Currently, I’m the Managing Director of Safety and Efficiency for American Airlines.
Russel: Awesome. A quick question about your Air Force service. What years were you in?
John: I was in from 1983 to 1991, and I got out right after a desert storm.
Russel: I was in from ’80 to ’85. I wonder if I would have rode on one of your C 130 flights. That is not outside the realm of possibility, because I logged a lot of hours back in the cargo hold of a 130.
John: You’d have been in my flight. If it had been a nice, smooth, comfortable flight, you would’ve probably been on one of my flights, then.
Russel: I wasn’t on any of those.
Russel: Mine were loud and bumpy, every single one of them.
John: Sound of freedom.
Russel: [laughs] Exactly. Look, I asked you to come on. I know, the listeners, that you’re not a pipeline guy, but you’re a safety guy. I wanted to talk to you about the history of aviation safety, and have a conversation about how that might apply to pipeline safety.
In particular, I want to talk to you about the Aviation Safety Action Program, because probably, everybody knows that there’s a lot of ability within the airlines for somebody to call something out and hold up a flight for a safety issue. How did that get started?
John: That’s great. Thanks for asking me that question, Russel, because this is something I’m really passionate about.
In 1993/1994, the Aviation Safety Action Program was started in the airline business. American Airlines turned out to be the pilot program for this safety program, which was endorsed by the Federal Aviation Administration, the FAA.
There’s an advisory circular that goes along with this. This has all been codified, and it’s all in the FAA documentation, but it originally came from the nuclear industry with the concept that you have good employees for a nuclear power plant who make a mistake. If you have someone who makes a mistake, and then you were to terminate them, you’ve got an employee who’s got 15, 20 years of experience, and you have to replace them with a brand new engineer, for instance, right out of college, you’re probably not necessarily any safer, particularly if it’s a systemic issue. If the employee who’s been there for 20 years makes an error based on a job card, the new employee will do the same thing.
The idea and the concept of this Aviation Safety Action Program did come from the nuclear industry, and so it’s been adopted by the airlines. For the last, well, since ’94 essentially, over time, all the airlines have adopted it in the United States. All the major airlines have an Aviation Safety Action Program for the pilots.
What this really does is this allows a pilot to, if he has a potential violation in flight, he turned a wrong way, wrong way in holding, went to the wrong altitude, the pilot can self report. By self reporting, the pilot is going to file an Aviation Safety Action Program report. We call it an ASAP report.
Following the ASAP report, this report will get looked at, and if this was not intentional, there was no, of course, no substance abuse or you’re not lying on the report, your report will be accepted.
In ARC world, if your report is accepted into the ASAP program, there can be no certificate action taken to you by the FAA, which is the government, and/or no company discipline.
Russel: John, when we had talked about this before and contemplated how we might do this on a podcast, you said it’s like I’m driving my car, and I run a stop sign, and then the very next police station I come to I walk in, and I go to the desk sergeant, and I say, “Hey, I just want to let you know I ran that stop sign back there.”
Then they pull out a form and start asking you a whole lot of questions.
John: Yes, Sir.
Russel: For somebody who’s not seen that done or seen the efficacy of it, it’s counterintuitive.
John: It could be, but here’s the thing. You make a point about running the stop sign. That’s just totally true. Ran the stop sign. We would go to the nearest police station. We’d write the report.
Here’s the key though. The report that we would be submitting is a fairly detailed report, and it would ask me questions like how long have I been driving. Did I have a passenger in the backseat? Was I listening to the radio at the time? Was my windows clean? A lot of issues like that we’d want to know.
As I walk out the police station and I apologize to the police officer, he may and typically will tell me, “Don’t feel too bad. We’ve had 35 other pilots run that same stop sign, John.” Then I go, “Well, OK. Well, I made a mistake, but maybe we have a systemic issue.”
What happens that the police would do, which is what the airlines do, they go back to the stop sign, and we find out that that stop sign has actually been turned by the local kids. There’s trees that have grown over the stop sign, and in fact the paint has faded on it. The stop sign isn’t as aware as it used to be.
Yes, individual mistake on my part, but we can fix those if we fix the systemic root causes, and that’s what ASAP is all about.
Russel: The thing that is an operating assumption is that the pilot is operating well trained and with good intent.
Russel: If they make a mistake, it could be a pilot issue, but it could be a whole lot of other things as well. The self reporting actually allows the safety analysts to look at that and say, “Hey, this has happened a lot right here. We need to take a deeper look at this and see what’s going on.”
John: Agreed. For us, in our world, the ASAP program is a confidential, voluntary program. Because of that, it’s a voluntary program although we have hundreds of reports every month from all the airlines, but it’s a confidential program.
When I make my report about running the stop sign, yes, the event review committee, which is the members of the FAA, the labor association, and the airline, when they look at the report that was accepted, they really don’t care what the name of the person was.
They want to look at me, and if there’s corrective actions, they want to talk to me personally. They’re looking at analytical, aggregate data to see if we have a systemic issue in the system.
Russel: You just said a mouthful there. That’s key to understand is they’re looking at analytical aggregate, and not just analytical aggregate but also structured data. There’s a particular way they’re capturing the information so that they can do that analysis.
John: Correct. We want to look at the root causes of stuff, and we’re trying to figure out why, because just as I am certain, like the pipeliners, pilots and mechanics at the major US based airlines, and flight attendants, nobody wakes up that morning saying, “I’m going to make a mistake today.” People wake up.
We have good employees in the airline industry. I’m certain it’s the same in the pipeline industry. You’re a good employee. You show up every day. When a mistake is made, typically it’s not intentional, so let’s find out why the mistake was made.
Was it human factors, human performance issues, or was there, did we not give them the right tools? Was there something else going on? Typically, there’s more to the story. Like the stop sign, there are things that are going on that don’t help us to prevent accidents, or incidents, or mistakes.
Russel: My dad always said when I was a kid, “If you pay attention to your nickels, son, the dollars will take care of themselves.” In a safety context, if you catch small things, you won’t have big things to look at, kind of the idea.
John: Our ASAP program is part of Safety Assurance, one of the components of our SMS Program, which is why it’s so important in the aviation industry because exactly what you’re saying. We are trying to capture the small little mistakes or issues early on.
What has proven over the last 25 years is we actually are capturing them much sooner than we did in the past, so we might still have incidents, but as you know, the number of accidents has gone way down.
That’s because we are really focused in the aviation world on trying to capture the incidents and the smaller things through ASAP so we don’t have any incidents or accidents. We’re trying to really prevent those.
Russel: I just want to make it clear, too, that the ASAP program is not just pilots. It’s pretty much everybody who’s working. Right?
John: Yes, Sir. Everybody that’s operational, so you have, in most airlines, it would cover ASAP program for pilots, flight attendants, tech ops, aircraft maintenance technicians, AMTs, for instance, dispatchers, folks that work on the ramp, so really anybody involved with the actual operation itself.
Russel: That would include the flight controllers, and the ground controllers, and the towers, and all that kind of folks as well, right?
John: Yeah. They have a separate program because they’re not airline employees. They’re with the government. The air traffic controllers and the folks that work with the FAA, they have their own program. It’s called ATSAP, Air Traffic Safety Action Program.
The advantage of that is we have a thing like let’s say someone turns the wrong way in holding or they got the wrong heading read back incorrect, we can marry up an ASAP report with the ATSAP report, so now we get the whole total picture of how the pilot made a mistake. Was it a misunderstanding from the air traffic controller?
These are all great safety programs that really, really peel back the bark back on the tree to really figure out the root causes so hopefully we can prevent them from happening again.
Russel: That raises another question I wanted to ask you is how does the collaboration across the industry work? I’m going to try to ask this question in a couple of parts.
The first thing is I could see where there would be a program or analysis for a set of pilots within an airline, and then similarly there could be the same kind of analysis for all pilots across airlines, and then there could be analysis for pilots, and mechanics, and ground crew, etc., within an airline and then within those disciplines across the airline.
There’s really a lot of different ways to slice, and dice, and look at all this. Am I tracking correctly? Am I understanding what’s going on?
John: You are tracking correctly. All the airlines participate in ASAP, so the folks from the Deltas, the United, Southwest, JetBlue, American, all the carriers, Hawaiian. We all contribute our de-identified, closed ASAP reports in a big database because what we’re trying to figure out is, is it a systemic issue with an airline or is it a systemic issue within the entire National Airspace System.
To your earlier point, we’re looking to see not just if it’s an airline centric or is it an industry issue. It’s been very helpful to identify where some of the weaknesses are in the industry or if it’s at a control tower or a certain different type of procedure or an arrival.
If American Airlines, if we have trouble on an arrival, arrival into DFW, where we have altitude issues, when we check with the other airlines, they have the same problem.
We can usually generally focus on certain arrivals, certain airports, certain departures, and so that’s really helpful. When you’re trying to fix things, it helps you shine the flashlight, what job are we going to tackle next. Those are the jobs. We can identify them.
Russel: Where’s the place where we get the most safety benefit by spinning the effort to understand what a root cause might be.
John: Yes, Sir.
Russel: Obviously, that’s a very mature, very complex, very robust program. What are some of the key learnings that, because you’ve been doing this pretty much from inception, what are some of the key learnings you would say you’ve taken away from this?
John: There’s actually quite a bit. Usually what we find on this is that by identifying issues early we can actually, like I mentioned, prevent incidents in the future.
We take a look at the data. There’s a saying in the airline industry, “Your next accident is already in your database as we speak.” Meaning if you can cull the data, and you could refine the data, and analyze it, you might determine what your next accident would be. I would agree with that.
All the airlines do a very good job every month doing a pretty good data analysis on what they’re finding. Individual ASAP reports on an individual event, they’re cool to look at and try to find the root cause, but it’s that aggregate database where we can actually say, “OK, we see this repeated over and over again. Let’s go do something about that.”
A case that comes to point is there’s an arrival into Memphis where one of the fixes is spelled B L U Z Z, and it’s pronounced blues, but there’s also another fix nearby that’s spelled B L E W S, which is also pronounced blues. If a controller gives you a heading direct to blues, you have a 50-50 chance of getting the wrong one, and we’d identified this through ASAP reports.
We went back to the air traffic controllers, the FAA, and, of course, they changed the name of one of the intersections. That’s another huge win because we’ve taken out the ambiguity, and it’s an incident that could happen to the best of pilots because you misunderstood the way they said it.
Russel: That’s such a simple thing, right?
Russel: It’s a simple thing, but it could have massive consequence.
John: Totally. We get a lot of these each month. For instance, I’ll speak on behalf, because I work for American, but at American Airlines, we get about 700 Flight ASAP reports per month just from the pilots. That’s consistent with all the other airlines, the Deltas, United, the Southwest. They have similar reporting.
That is a reflection of how good your safety culture is, which I do believe the airlines have really good safety cultures, primarily because you have a really good reporting culture. That leads to a very good safety culture I believe.
Russel: There’s a lot bound up in that statement right there, John, is that a really good reporting culture leads to a really good safety culture. Just getting the information is one thing, but getting the information in a way that it can be broadly shared and analyzed is key I would think to have in a program be able to mature.
John: I agree. The one thing that’s been, is that you were asking about lessons and what we’re learning from it. If you find these jewels of mistakes and you fix them, it’s important to tell the pilots why these changes are being made. It’s part of what we call safety promotion, part of our SMS programs.
I am sure pipeliners are like pilots. If you just tell me to make a change, I’d like to know why because if you tell me why I’ll probably have a better buy in to it. It’s really important that we promote that through our safety promotion and through our newsletters and podcasts, for instance, why these changes were made.
Then you get buy-in from the pilots, and that completes the circle where we go full circle from the identification of a hazard to the mitigations that were done and why we made that change. We do this all the time. It just completes the circle.
Russel: Again, there’s a lot packed up in that as well. At least for me, being a stereotypical engineer, the “why” is often more important to me than the “what”. If I can remember the “why”, that gives me a context for decision making. The “what” is more you’re asking me to be a robot versus you’re asking me to understand what it is I’m doing.
John: Agreed. A lot of people in our industries, not just the airlines, I’m sure in the pipelines. I know some in the rail industry. These are people that they’ve been doing this for a long time. They’re very skilled at what they’re doing. Asking them to make a change of behavior, it’s important to tell them the “why”. Because then they will make that change.
Russel: Yeah, I’ve certainly found that in the pipeline control centers. If we’ve rolled out control room management, high performance HMIs, and new approaches to alarm management, it’s very important for a new group that’s not seen that to understand the why. Having them understand the why and participate in the process is critical to success.
John: It’s interesting. You mentioned we get reports from pilots and from flight attendants on, sometimes, indications we get in the cockpit. That goes to what you call alarm management.
We take this stuff seriously because the airplane is built by a manufacturer, but sometimes, the way it’s actually used by the airlines is not how they anticipated. Therefore, getting that feedback, even the manufacturer’s, is critical. We’re working on making that better in our system.
Russel: When you were in the early days of this program, John, what are some of the key obstacles and challenges to getting this program implemented and successful?
John: [laughs] When the program first came out in ’94, I was a pilot at American Airlines. I remembered getting a briefing by some safety folks saying that this new program called ASAP, if you make a mistake, go ahead and report on yourself, and tell us the error you made so we can learn from it.
I thought to myself, “Nobody’s going to report on themselves.” Everybody looks the other way like, “Did anybody see that?” just like I did as a kid. The understanding of what the concept was was not understood by many, and myself included. I found it almost ironic, 15 years later, I was in charge of this program, and which is why I’m on this podcast with you.
I’m passionate about what it will do for the industry, and I know what it’s done for the airline industry. It has made us extremely safe because we’re identifying hazards, not by management, but we’re identifying hazards by the employees themselves. They’re the ones that are identifying the hazards because they’re out there seeing this every day.
I think that this has broad implications for other industries. I would have to say, “But not only just the pipeline industry, but the oil and gas industry.”
These are also industries that are high reliability organizations, pressures. You work many times by yourself as a pilot. I have a boss who never sits in the cockpit, who never sees what I do, so we’re on our own. For us, not to report an error, nobody would ever know about it, but we bought into it now.
As an airline, we want to report the errors and the mistakes we made, and there’s no repercussions. If you’re accepting the program, there’s no company discipline, there’s no certificate asked by the FAA, because everybody understands, including the government, that we want to make this a very safe system for aviation safety.
The obstacle, to your question, was to get the buy-in from the members of the pilots, for instance, and the mechanics to report on yourself. If all we did was collect data and never said anything, the program would have failed.
Because we were able to collect data and make changes, not just visible changes, but make changes that pilots and mechanics and dispatchers saw the changes made, they, of course, tell their friends and tell their co-workers and their colleagues. It becomes a system that keeps perpetuating itself now.
Russel: Building that culture of self reporting, people have to trust in the process. That means that when I report, it’s not going to be punitive. It’s going to be corrective, but not punitive.
The other thing I would think is that you’ve got to be very diligent about keeping people involved in the decision making, and providing feedback about, “Hey, here’s what we’re learning,” so that they see the value of the reporting they’re doing that’s being worked on and being actioned.
John: It works really well. I would say this, too, and I say this to a lot of people. The next time you fly on a major carrier in the United States, and even the regional carriers, on the way out of the airplane, you could tell the captain, “Nice landing,” but you could also ask the captain or first officer, “Hey, do you have an ASAP program here?”
Every pilot’s going to say, “Yeah, we’ve got one.” Everybody buys in the program. They love this program because they know that when we identify issues or hazards, it’s fixed not just for one airline. It’s fixed for all the airlines, so everybody buys into the program.
Russel: I could certainly see that. I think the public, in general, understands that the airlines are doing things differently. Particularly, those of us who’ve been flying for a couple of decades, like myself and others that I work with, they’ve seen the difference in terms of safety. I wish they would implement a similar program for customer satisfaction.
John: [laughs] I stick to headings and altitudes.
Russel: That’s a whole different conversation. I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole with you.
John: I stick to headings, and altitudes, and air speeds.
Russel: There you go. You mentioned working with other industries. Have you done work with industries outside of the airline, and what kind of work have you done?
John: I’m passionate about this concept, so I have broached this discussion with several different entities, particularly someone in the medical industry. I think that would be a place that would work. The oil and gas industry seems to be somewhat interested in pursuing this path.
We were on a path to get that more out there, but the COVID and everything else, that really put a little bit of a brake on it a bit.
Russel: What you’re saying is you spend a fair amount of time just advocating.
John: I do a lot of time advocating. Russel, that’s why I’m your guest today because I do believe this is good, this is good business practice for safety for any industry quite frankly. Unless you have a complete and you feel comfortable that you know where all the mistakes are being made. The best way to find out is to have your employees tell you what mistakes are being made without punitive action against them.
Russel: I’ve been working on a bit of a manifesto about how we as an industry improve our pipeline safety maturity. I’ve been circulating that with some people and collecting some feedback. One of the things that I’m advocating is that we as a pipeline industry need to look at what the airlines have done and see how we can emulate it.
One of the conversations that comes up consistently is the idea of safe harbor, meaning that there has to be a way that I can report things and that doesn’t become punitive just because I reported it. Right?
Russel: That’s a bit of an obstacle in the pipeline industry at the moment. I know there’s a lot of conversation going on about it, but it’s not something that we’ve figured out yet. What did it take to get that in place in the airline industry? I’m talking more about between the regulators and the airlines.
John: That’s a fair question. There’s been some pretty, I won’t give the specific ones, but there’s been some pretty public accidents in the last couple years where an airplane, for instance, ran off the end of the runway. It’s easy to say, “Well, let’s just terminate the two pilots because they landed long.”
That’s an easy one, but both pilots put ASAP reports in. They didn’t wake up that morning planning to run off the end of the runway. What they did is they put the reports in and were pretty honest about what happened. When you look at what happened to them, you realize that it could have happened to another crew just like them.
By accepting a crew that had literally taken an airplane, had gone off the runway, and it was a total hull loss, yet the crew was accepted into the ASAP program. They still have their jobs. They’re still flying at these airlines. That’s pretty powerful.
In the past, people covered things up just because they were already getting terminated. Now, we really don’t do that in the airlines anymore honestly. We want to know what happened.
Like I’ve said at the beginning of the podcast, you take a pilot who’s been there 20 years plus, makes a mistake, not an intentional mistake, and you were to terminate him or her, you’ve got to hire somebody else to replace them, and it’s typically going to be a brand new pilot who doesn’t have near the experience or wisdom that this pilot had.
Russel: The guy I’d like to quiz is the guy that was involved with the program upon its formation when they were negotiating out the rules with the agency. That’s the guy I’d like to talk to.
John: It was not an easy sell at first. I give credit to the FAA, and other members have taken this leap of faith. It took a year under the first program, and after the first year, it was, to be fair, this was a great example. After the first year, American Airlines was the pilot launch program of this, and after the first year, the FAA had looked at the results to determine if this program was worth it or not.
One of the things that came out of this is they basically felt American had a lot more hazards than other airlines. The reason was because we did all our reporting. Our competitors had no reports.
It took the FAA, the aha moment like, “Ah, we get it. We know these things are happening at every airline. Right?” Now, it’s like this is the one airline’s actually reporting them, and that was the aha moment that the regulators said, “Yeah, we’re on board with it.”
To be fair, the FAA is a huge proponent of the ASAP program. They always have been, and they continue to support it to this day, and it’s been a win-win for the industry and for the regulator too.
Russel: I certainly think that’s true. You can look at the safety performance in the airlines, and you’ve got the proof.
John: You do.
Russel: How infrequent accidents are. When they occur, they tend to be much less severe than they were when I was flying 20 years ago. That’s for sure.
John: Yes, I would agree.
Russel: I want to wrap this up, John. If you were going to give pipeliners some, “Hey, guys. Here’s what you ought to be thinking about,” what would that look like? What kind of advice would you give us in our community?
John: I would say, “Hey, guys and gals. Here’s my advice to you: if you can find a way to have a confidential and voluntary safety program, reporting program, you will find that you will completely enhance your safety management systems, your safety culture.
“For this to be successful, you have to have a…Once again, it has to be a confidential, voluntary reporting program where employees feel not only emboldened, but feel comfortable that they can report hazards, whether they were the responsibility for the hazard, or they found a mistake, or some other safety suggestion they have.
“That they can make these, and feel like there’s not going to be any discipline made towards them. If you can get over that hurdle, which the airlines have accomplished, in my opinion, you then have the ability where you don’t have to go as a manager to look where the mistakes are or where the errors are. Your employees are reporting them to you.
“You’ll be so busy, the airlines are so busy dealing with hazard reports from employees that they’re not going out themselves and having to find these issues, because they’re being reported to them, and it’s a great culture.”
Russel: It eliminates the inspection requirement, right?
John: [laughs] Well…
Russel: Not completely, of course, but it certainly materially changes that dynamic.
John: Yes. As a safety guy at a major airline, I don’t have to go out and look for safety issues. They’re being reported to us every day. We know where the touchpoints are, and they’re being reported by your experts, which are the employees themselves.
Russel: I would say that I think there’s a lot more similarity in between airline and pipeline than there is difference when you talk about this. One of the things about pipelines is we operate in a lot of very narrow technical specialties, and that’s certainly true in the airlines.
Russel: The leadership in those technical specialties tends to have a lot of autonomy in their decision making, a lot of accountability, a lot of authority. We tend to work remotely and by ourselves a lot. It’s not like I’m sitting in an office, and my manager is sitting across the hall from me. I’m in a pickup truck, and I’m out in the field doing something.
There’s a lot of those kinds of similarities. What’s different is that we’re not as mature in our programs. Pipeline safety management as a discipline is relatively new. It’s about five years old now in the industry. People are just trying to get a handle on where they’re at, and trying to implement programs to begin to improve and mature.
The whole idea of this Aviation Safety Action Program is it’s more of an advanced concept. There’s some things that need to be in place before you’re ready to pull the trigger on all that.
Certainly, you need to have some kind of SMS program. There needs to be some consistency across the industry. Then, there’s probably a fair amount of work that has to occur where you start getting to, “Well, this is the normalized way that we’re going to collect this data.”
Russel: You’ve got to collect the data in a normalized way, so that you can look at it, make sense of it across operators and across time.
John: I agree with you. The description you gave of a pipeliner being in leadership positions, being autonomous, being highly skilled in their job, that you were describing a pilot at any of the major airlines, because they’re very similar to that.
Russel: It’s not just pilots in aviation. If you look at the ground crews, if you look at the mechanics, and even within the mechanics, you’ve got sub disciplines within those mechanics.
The engine guys aren’t working on avionics, and the avionics guys aren’t working on hydraulics. There’s a lot of specialization. The real safety action report needs to come from as close to the work being performed as possible.
John: Also, I don’t want to leave out flight attendants. They’re in the same position. They have the same issues. They see the same thing. The airline industry, as a whole, is fairly autonomous in the workforce. I’ll use DFW. There’s 3,000+ pilots at DFW, and there’s six chief pilots. You have 6 managers for 3,000+ pilots because they’re all independent. They’re all doing their thing, and we expect…
Like the pipeline industry, when you get in those positions, you’ve been vetted. You’re the right person for the job. They expect you to be leadership and be professional. Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, “We’re going to make mistakes today.” It doesn’t happen in our industry, and I’m sure it’s the same as pipeliners.
Russel: You don’t get into that job of pilot without being appropriately credentialed.
You’ve passed the physical. You’ve had training. You’ve got your simulator hours up. You’re oriented in the aircraft you’re flying. There’s a lot that goes on to get those credentials. It’s very similar in pipelining around operator qualification. As those programs mature, we get better and better at that stuff.
John: I’m totally on board with you. The thing, even like the pipeliners, the ones I’ve been exposed to and I’ve been aware of, they’re very serious and professional about their jobs.
The thing I like about the ASAP program, this isn’t some program that somebody owns. This is just a concept, but the ASAP program itself, it’s not only good for your industry. It’s actually good for our country, the USA, in my opinion.
John: It’s better for our…
Russel: I agree, I guess. I’ve said this before. I grew up in measurement, and then moved into SCADA and automation and control room, and then into leak detection and such, but it wasn’t until control room management became a regulatory requirement. I started to see all the things I’d done through the lens of safety.
I’m not talking about people-safety, but asset-safety, if you understand that. Not job safety as much as keeping the integrity of the system. I got re-enthused. I got excited about what I do again, and got a whole new vision for what the possibility could be, and how we, as a company, could participate in that value and that possibility.
I would say this. I’m going to make a little bit of a shameless plug. I almost never do this on the podcast. I will say that I’m actively looking for people that are interested, or pipeline operators that are interested in this conversation, and how we might collaborate to help the industry move forward on this basis.
One of the reasons I asked John on, I’ve had a number of conversations with you, John, and I’ve been learning a lot from your experience. I’m hoping that we can get some of that benefit into the pipeline space.
John: I would welcome the involvement. You have my support, and I’m willing to assist any way I can. All the airlines have safety people that can help if it ever comes up. We all feel the same way. It’s not just John. We all feel the same way about this program.
Russel: Listen, this has been great. Thanks for coming on. I’m sure the audience will really appreciate you sharing your experience and perspective on all this. Hopefully, we’ll get some feedback, get you back, and have maybe some more specific questions.
John: Well, thank you, Russel. I appreciate you letting me talk a little bit about this Aviation Safety Action Program, which I’m very passionate about.
Russel: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast and our conversation with John.
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Russel: If you have ideas, questions, or topics you’d be interested in or if you’d like to be a guest, please let me know either on the contact us page at pipelinepodcastnetwork.com or reach out to me on LinkedIn. Thanks for listening, talk to you next week.
Transcription by CastingWords