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15 Most Important Keywords in Safety Management Systems (SMS)

Posted by Tyler Britton on Jun 5, 2017 6:06:00 PM

What are Keywords in Aviation Safety Management Systems (SMS)

Keywords in Safety Management SystemsKeywords in Aviation Safety Management Systems (SMS) are the most important words that people new or experienced in SMS need to know. SMS keywords are not just for safety personnel, but rather for all people who interact with a risk management program.

A “keyword” is simply a word that is more important or relevant than most words within a type of subject matter. In the case of SMS, keywords are simply the most important concepts to know in order to comprehend:

  • What SMS is;
  • How SMS works; and
  • The purpose of SMS.

Here are the 15 most important keywords in safety management systems (SMS).

1 – What Hazards are in Risk Management

There are two ways to define hazardsin risk management.

Most commonly, they are assumed to be a “dangerous condition” that lead directly to an accident. In this definition, hazards arise from hazard mechanisms, such as root causes and Human Factors.

Less commonly (but perhaps an easier to understand definition) they are considered as “benign elements that can become dangerous” through interaction (i.e., human interaction, weather, etc.).

2 – What Risks are in Safety Management

How you define risks depends on how you define hazards.

Most commonly, risks are synonymous with a safety mishap, such as an accident. This understanding of risk comes from understanding a hazard as a “dangerous condition.”

Less commonly (but perhaps less confusing) is considering risks as the “dangerous condition”, such as companies who use Risk Events in their risk management practices. Understanding risks in this manner involve considering hazards as “benign elements that can become dangerous”

3 – What Risk Is

“Risk” in the infinitive sense of the word is the combination of:

  • Severity of most-likely outcomes (i.e. total damage-consequences of an accident); and
  • Probability that the dangerous condition will result in those outcomes.

Risk is used with Risk Matrices to rank and categorize dangerous conditions.

4 – What Accidents are in SMS Programs

Accidents, sometimes called “mishaps,” “risks,” or “incidents,” are the negative outcomes that arise from dangerous conditions, such as:

  • Damage to equipment, vehicles, or aircraft;
  • Injuries or loss of life to people;
  • Environment damages; and
  • Financial damages.

Accidents are distinguished from Consequences in that Accidents are “damages done” and Consequences are “repercussions from damages” or “final losses.” Note that in real world operations, that there is often overlap between Accidents and Consequences, with no clear line

5 - What Consequences are in SMS Programs

Consequences are the end-result in a safety incident, and arise in response to safety mishaps. As pointed out, in real world operations the line between Consequences and Accidents can be vague. Consequences have a certain “business flavor” such as:

  • Fines;
  • Loss of revenue;
  • Loss of consumer/investor confidence; and
  • Loss of safety culture.

6 - Reactive Risk Management

Reactive risk management are exposure-mitigating actions that are done in-response to safety incidents and concerns. Reactive risk management is generally what aviation SMS programs practice when they begin implementing the SMS program.

Contrary to popular dissemination, reactive risk management is not a lesser or less desirable form of risk management than either proactive or predictive risk management. Reactive risk management techniques are an equal and indispensable type of action on the part of management for achieving safety performance.

7 - Predictive Risk Management

Predictive risk management is a type of risk management that involves looking at existing business processes and attempting to anticipate future risk. This is done through:

  • Hypothetical scenarios;
  • Safety case; and
  • Management of change.

Predictive risk management is sort of like stress-testing an SMS program by seeing how existing operational practices behave in novel situations (i.e., situations that have never happened).

8 - Proactive Risk Management

Proactive risk management is the practice of addressing known safety concerns before they result in a safety incident. The term “nipping it in the bud” applies very strongly here.

Contrary to popular belief, proactive risk management is not the most important form of risk management. It’s simply a type of risk management that is hard to practice until later in SMS implementation. As SMS programs solidify reactive risk management techniques, there will be more time and opportunity to begin to practice proactive strategies.

9 - Key Performance Indicators

Key performance indicators (KPIs) are safety metrics, such as aviation leading indicators, that directly indicate the performance of safety goals and objectives.

For example, if one safety goal is to develop an above average safety culture, a good leading indicator might be: company average turnover rate (CATR) vs. industry average (IATR). Any number above 1.0 (i.e., CATR/IATR) would be considered above average.

With KPIs, more is not better. Only KPIs that best represent goals and objectives should be considered. Over time, the list of KPIs should change in response to changing goals and objectives of company.

10 - Safety Performance

Safety performance is the net result of an SMS program in terms of:

  1. Compliance;
  2. Exposure; and
  3. Safety Culture.

Safety performance monitoring workflow for aviation SMS programs

You might call these the “three pillars of performance.” All three elements of safety performance should be accounted for in goals and objective, and corresponding KPIs.

11 - Risk Assessment

A risk assessment is the activity of documenting “risk” (see above). It organizes and ranks a dangerous condition based on severity and likelihood.

In aviation safety management systems, risk assessments are documented using a risk matrix.

12 – Mechanisms of Hazards/Risks

Mechanisms are the various items that “conspire” together to result in a dangerous condition. These mechanisms are:

  • Root causes;
  • Human interaction, such as Human Factors;
  • Environmental factors, such as night, mountains, birds, etc.; and
  • Organizational factors, such as safety policy and management commitment.

Mechanisms are not inherently dangerous, but become dangerous do to interaction.

13 - Risk Controls

Risk controls are measures taken to mitigate exposure of potential dangerous conditions and/or accidents. Risk controls can be:

In short, a control measure can be anything so long as it’s function reduces risk. Function with the “intention” of reducing risk but do not actually do so should not be considered bonafide risk controls.

14 - Non-Punitive Reporting Policy

Non-punitive reporting policy is the requirement that aviation service providers, such as airlines and airports, make active attempts to focus on the “problem” rather than the “person.” What this entails is that when employees report issues, they should not be scared of retaliation from:

  • Management;
  • Safety team; or
  • Other employees.

This is an extremely difficult thing to accomplish, and it’s for this reason that many companies opt to not allow employees to see reported safety issues.

15 - Human Factors

In short, the Dirty Dozen Human Factors account for the 12 types of human behavior that either contribute or mitigate safety exposure.

While they are commonly considered as being inherently “negative” it’s important to keep in mind that Human Factors can be used to mitigate exposure. Human error comes from Human Factors, but so does quality human action.  


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