Simplifying Your Aviation Safety Management System

PT 3 M minute read

This is a post by guest author JR Russell, CEO and founder of ProActive Safety Systems, Inc. JR was asked to contribute to this blog because of his expertise in aviation safety management systems. JR also conducts safety management topics presentations, such as this recurring educational series hosted by Universal Weather and Aviation, Inc. Any thoughts expressed below are entirely JR’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Universal Weather and Aviation, Inc.

Many industry and regulatory "experts" suggest that implementing a Safety Management System (SMS) is difficult, time-consuming, and expensive.

I strongly disagree.

Ask yourself this question: Are your safety management activities complex and expensive? If the answer is "yes," you’re doing something wrong.

Managing safety is ultimately about managing risk – a simple concept that is often lost in academic models and 300-page safety manuals. Managing safety is not about making things complicated and "user unfriendly." An effective SMS that actually adds value while elevating the level of safety within an organization, is easily understood and "user-friendly."

I’ve had the opportunity to review the SMSs of several types of operators – large, small, international, domestic, private non-revenue (part 91), non-scheduled commercial (part 135), scheduled commercial (part 121) – and the most effective SMSs are not complex; instead, they are streamlined and easy to understand. An example of reducing unnecessary complexity is an operator who utilizes a single report form, rather than three different forms, for 1) the reporting of hazards/threats, for 2) any recommended changes employees want to suggest, and for 3) any unintentional errors employees have committed. This is sort of a "one-stop shopping" concept. The operators with an ineffective SMS seem to focus more on managing the complexities of their SMS rather than managing safety itself. An example of complexities is the method an employee uses to access safety information. The safety information should be readily available and easily accessed for the front-line employees. Employees should not be forced to perform several steps just to get the safety information in front of them to read. Also, the safety information itself should be as brief and to-the-point as possible.

It is a myth that SMSs are better suited for large organizations. Smaller organizations actually have an advantage when it comes to incorporating an SMS because the smaller the operation, the easier it is to communicate and implement the steps needed to run an effective SMS. Regardless of the size of the operation, all successful SMSs will include four basic elements:

  • Top-level management is committed to safety.
  • Systems are in place to ensure hazards are reported in a timely manner.
  • Action is taken to manage risks.
  • The effects of safety actions are evaluated.

Experience has shown that effective SMSs make good economic sense. An effective SMS not only allows an organization to become more proactive in identifying and avoiding major threats/hazards but also reduces the number of minor incidents an operator will experience over time. An effective SMS will lead to improved communication, higher workplace morale, and increased productivity.

If your SMS is just sitting there and not really doing anything to make your operation safer and more efficient, then you need to take a hard look at how your organization is really managing safety. Chances are, your safety management activities are too complex and more reactive than proactive.

Effective safety management depends on the involvement of everyone within an organization. In order to get everyone within an organization involved in the activities of an SMS, the SMS must be easily understood and transparent.

An effective SMS has credibility which leads to everyone’s involvement. Employee participation is inversely proportional to the complexity of an SMS. As complexity increases, participation decreases.

Without participation, an SMS can never be effective.

Keep it simple!


SMS Seminar Series: A Hands-on Approach to Aviation Safety Management Systems


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