Safety Assurance Monitoring Activities - Third ICAO SMS Pillar
Most safety managers immediately recognize ICAO's four pillars:
An interesting aside is that many Americans believe these four pillars were FAA's idea. Does your eyebrow raise at our arrogance or ignorance? The FAA seldom has an original idea, so I doubt the four pillars came from them. If someone knows where the four pillars originated, please advise. Maybe it was a MITRE SMS concept, as they produce very nice aviation SMS training materials.
Regardless, we (SMS Pro team) consider the ICAO Document 9859 the bible of SMS, but they don't specifically mention the "Four Pillars."
The point is "Safety Assurance." What does it mean and how does an airline or airport's safety team practice it?
What does "Assurance" mean in this context? Document 9859 says "Assurance can simply be defined as 'something that gives confidence.' (section 9.5.2).
Quick tip #1. To practice "safety assurance"
"Review the SMS Implementation Plan."
Using SMS Implementation Plan in Aviation Safety Assurance
Using the implementation plan as a safety assurance activity may seem counter-intuitive to some, but this is a great idea, and almost always overlooked.
Why don't more airlines and airports use their implementation plans for safety assurance?
1. Opposite Ends of ICAO SMS Implementation Plan Workflow
For those unfamiliar with the ICAO SMS guidelines, there are four phases:
- Planning SMS Implementation;
- Reactive Safety Management Processes;
- Proactive and Predictive Safety Managemetn Processes; and
- Operational Safety Assurance;
As you can see above, one would logically use an SMS implementation plan during the "planning" stages. Most reading this article will have fully implemented SMS programs, at least on paper, and maybe not in practice.
For airlines and airports with fully implemented aviation safety safety management systems, safety managers are spending their time performing:
- Safety Promotion Activities (newsletters, posters, surveys, alerts, etc.)
- Managing Hazard Reports & Investigations;
- Preparing & Conducting Audits;
- Monitoring Analytics to Discover Trends; and
- Reporting to Management;
In short, safety managers are actually performing safety management tasks and not concerned about planning activities. This is not always a bad thing, but there must always be a return to the plan to insure the implementation plan's activities are continuing to be effective. Otherwise, your airline or airport won't have a sustainable SMS program.
2. Half-Hearted Completion of Earlier SMS Program Activities
Top management expect results, especially when they are expected to comply with regulatory requirements.
Safety managers are mission oriented and are eager to please and hate to disappoint. Safety managers are very hard workers and may have the best intentions at heart. But sometimes they will "pencil-whip" a requirement to "check the box" during their SMS implementation.
Example: "Conduct a gap analysis" is a Phase 1 SMS implementation activity.
Safety manager may says, "OK, I did the gap analysis, and there are some deficiencies. Now I can check the box." There may not have been much earnest effort to correct the deficiencies. This would lead me to suggest that the Gap Analysis should become an annual activity for every safety team to "assure" management that your SMS program is sustainable and demonstrate continuous improvement.
Final Using Implementation Plan for Safety Assurance Activities
Reviewing the blueprints of airline or airport safety management systems should become an annual activity for safety management teams. How else will the organization stay on track? Use your implementation plan as your road map.
If you are unable to find your SMS implementation plan, I have included the ICAO implementation plan as well as the Transport Canada SMS Implementation Plan below for review.
These three videos give advice as to move to the predictive and proactive phase of your SMS implementation using the Risk Management Solution.
This article was originally posted on July 2, 2015. It has been refreshed and reformatted.