Do you prefer the coalface?

The importance of risk management is, unfortunately, best understood only when disaster strikes.

Freight industry management executives were inevitably born, and raised, at the coalface of the business.  The art of management, including risk management, is more often than not learnt late in the career of a freight management executive.   The entrenchment of coalface experience, which often means fighting fires on a day to day basis rather than constructive forward planning, is difficult to shake off.   This mind set is encouraged by the attitude that “it will never happen to me”.

There are a number of examples of failure to manage risk striking down the freight powerful simply because the “through the ranks” freight executives did not master this essential slice of the management pie.

Vulnerabilities in this area fall into a number of categories, I will concentrate, as this is my area of experience, on the risk management required in respect of the security of air cargo.

It is known, and accepted, that aircraft are vulnerable to terrorist attacks, I need only mention the word Yemeni and everybody knows exactly what I am talking about.  ICAO introduced, many years ago, measures which have been refined and improved over the years, to minimise the dangers of terrorist attack on aircraft introduced through cargo.

The success of these measures is dependent on the co-operation of the components that make up the integrated process from consignor to aircraft.   Like it or not, if a freight, or courier agent, and to a lesser extent perhaps consignor, is not actively participating the risk management of air cargo, it displays a laissez faire attitude, inter alia, to the stakeholders of the enterprise.  Shareholders are protected by the layers of law that separate them from the business, not so directors.   Half-cocked risk management of air cargo could involve the directors in personal liability.

The freight forwarder, courier agent or air carrier, who choose not to participate in the legal requirements of air cargo risk management, being Annexure 17 of ICAO and Part 108, 109 and 110 of the SACAA regulations, are in the front line of the legal liability firing squad should an incident occur involving an explosive device. This vulnerability of does not derive solely from terrorist threats, dangerous goods are an equal part of the risk management that must be applied.   Incredible as it may seem, many forwarding agents, courier agents and air carriers are not aware of the legal requirement that even if you do not handle dangerous goods your staff require, by law, certain elements of dangerous goods training.  This does not mean one or two persons in the warehouse, it means everybody in the warehouse.   This example of ignorance in the industry is a tailor made illustration of the point that risk management is very low on the scale of perceived, or practised management responsibilities.

It is said by cynics that we live in a cold, harsh business world governed by the quest for money in which truth, honesty and integrity take a back seat.  In this environment, moral obligations that the freight industry owe to society is often blurred, or even lost.  The aircraft that carries your cargo also carries sisters, brothers, wives, sons, daughters, and friends who are dependent on your integrity, your skill and your application of the principles to protect these persons from injury and death.    If you do not do your job by disregarding your moral and legal responsibilities, you could have the deaths of many many people resting upon your conscience until you too meet with the end of this life that we all face.

Post by Rob Garbett Managing Director of Professional Aviation Services (Pty) Ltd. this article was previously published in FTW

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