Complacency in the Work Environment and How It Affects SMS

PT 3 M minute read
Complacency in the Work Environment and How It Affects SMS

Complacency in the Work Environment and How It Affects SMS

Just because you haven’t had an accident does not mean you won’t have one. Having a safety management system (SMS) in place may increase operational safety of your overall flight department if properly utilized. Complacency, however, continues to be a problem both in terms of SMS implementation and following established SMS procedures once a system is in place. Overall, it appears that there’s a high level of complacency within one’s work environment and, by extension, flight departments, due to repetitive tasks. Such complacency can and will compromise safety of your organization.

1. Defining the “work environment”

The work environment can be any part of the company. There’s the macro (organization as a whole) and the micro (such as an office or flight deck). Depending on your position, you may view it from a holistic perspective or from the micro environment, i.e. the flight deck. Your view may be more organizational or managerial in nature or more operationally focused – i.e., pilots involved in the flight deck environment.

2. Complacency can affect the work environment and SMS

Everyone can become complacent in their particular environment, and there are different levels of complacency. At higher management positions, complacency may be more latent. At the line personnel “trigger pullers” level, however, complacency can have catastrophic results. Beware of the “Swiss cheese” effect – you don’t want the “holes to line up” as this can lead to accidents. Complacent decisions are often made by individuals who may be experiencing social or psychological factors or even apathy. Bad decisions can filter down and have negative consequences months or years later. One of the biggest problems, in terms of complacency, is the attitude, “We don’t need SMS because we haven’t had any accidents.” Complacent attitudes may put your organization at higher risk of an accident. Implementing a SMS will not, by itself, prevent accidents. The organization needs to embrace the SMS and not just put it on a shelf. It’s up to all employees and management to follow standards and procedures in the SMS manual. Incident analysis has shown that complacency tends to play a large role in incidents and accidents.

3. Be aware of common complacency issues

The more you do a task it becomes repetitive in nature, and the more likely you‘ll become complacent, unless you actively work to mitigate complacency. When doing a walk around the aircraft, for example, pilots may not pay sufficient attention to details. There was an incident a few years ago where pilots failed to notice that static ports were taped over with silver tape. The aircraft eventually crashed because the instruments failed them. The reasons why these types of safety transgressions occur are numerous. Errors, typically, are compounded by complacency.

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4. Know how complacency issues affect SMS

Complacency with regard to SMS is often the result of a “We are safe” mindset. This leads to a reduction in awareness/focus and leads to a false sense of security. An SMS is not a “catch all” but a tool. For SMS to work effectively, the organization must be constantly focused on safety and best practice procedures. What sets an effective SMS apart from simply following regulations is being proactive: trying to prevent incidents and issues by identifying safety issues and taking effective action against these issues.

5. Plan to actively combat complacency in the workplace

Complacency is a human flaw and not always easy to combat. It comes down to awareness, training, and avoiding insidious effects of fatigue within the work environment. Focus on tasks at hand. Have an attitude of, “Let’s make sure, go through each item, and identify any issues.” Not using checklists is a great example of an avoidable complacency risk.

6. Know what you can do to positively affect the work environment and success of a SMS

Create a checklist to assist in combating complacency risks. Work with 3rd-party providers knowledgeable on the issues and network with other flight organizations that have made successful SMS transitions. Make sure everyone in the organization, from the CEO on down, is aware that complacency is an issue and get each person involved to prevent it.


Developing an SMS is an important safety enhancement for any flight department. Benefits, however, may be limited or sabotaged as a result of complacency in the workplace and/or flight department. Starting on a path toward SMS requires changes to the operating culture of the organization. Once an SMS is established, everyone in the department needs to “buy into it,”avoid complacency, and follow established standards and procedures.


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