The SMS ball got rolling in a meeting in February 2009 that included the FAA Office of Aviation Safety, the European Aviation Safety Agency, the International Civil Aviation Organization and Transport Canada Civil Aviation. The intent was that, rather than having a number of organizations all working independently to develop the framework of SMS, this Safety Management International Collaboration Group (SM ICG) would work to share information on ideas, best practices and implementation resulting in one basic framework that everyone could use to build their own SMS. The products it develops will be available through the Internet. At this point the ICAO requires that an SMS be developed for operations, maintenance, air traffic services, airports, flight training and design and production of aircraft, which pretty much covers most of commercial aviation.
So what does an SMS look like? Obviously an SMS for an airplane manufacturer would look quite different from an airline SMS, which would in turn be very different from an SMS for air traffic control. However, the common goal is to develop a cohesive and pervasive safety culture throughout the organization that involves each employee in actively searching for weaknesses in the organization that could lead to an accident or other adverse event. There are four basic components to an SMS:
The entire framework of an SMS rests on a clear commitment from senior management to safety management through the SMS. This includes establishing clear safety objectives and committing to manage to those objectives. That in turn leads to establishing the organizational structure, methods and processes to meet those objectives. A key element is transparency in management of safety with processes for employee reporting and accountability for both management and employees. It is anticipated that the safety policy would build on processes and procedures that are already in place, and that it would facilitate communication and cooperation across the organization.
Safety Risk Management
This is a formal process that identifies hazards within the system, assesses the risk level of those hazards and then controls the risk to ensure it is at an acceptable level. Rather than being a standalone process, safety risk management can be embedded in the processes used to provide the organization’s products or services.
This is where the accountability comes in. Safety assurance involves a continuous effort to evaluate the effectiveness of the risk control strategies that have been implemented while at the same time working to identify new hazards. It basically “takes the temperature” of the organization to ensure that the organization is meeting or exceeding all safety requirements. It is unfortunate that safety audits are often conducted with the objective of catching people doing something wrong. It is much better to approach the safety assessment as a consultation: working together to analyze what is going well and looking for opportunities to improve safety by minimizing risk.