SMS Pro Aviation Safety Software Blog 4 Airlines & Airports

Best Practices for Documenting Your SMS

Posted by Tyler Britton on Apr 5, 2018 5:56:00 AM

What Does Documenting Your SMS Mean

Best practices for documenting your aviation SMSSMS documentation is probably the most critical component of aviation SMS design. Documentation must be clear, accurate, and easy to access. Documentation reflects SMS compliance and SMS performance.

Though “documentation” is a simple idea, making sure your documentation is well managed is quite difficult in actual practice. This is because:

  • SMS is big;
  • SMS can be complex; and
  • Accounting for this size/complexity is a huge undertaking.

The goals of SMS documentation are:

  • Define standards, procedures, and SMS history;
  • Account for (verify) records, data, meeting minutes, etc.
  • Explain decision making, training, instructions, manuals, etc.

What is the Best Hierarchy for Documenting Your SMS

A helpful way to understand how to document your SMS is the hierarchy of SMS documentation, shown on the right.

SMS documentation has 4 distinct sections:

  • Policies;
  • Procedures;
  • Instructions; and
  • Records.

Any piece of SMS documentation falls into one of the points. However, they do not all require equal attention. They also don’t require equal amount of documentation, hence the pyramid of documentation.

The pyramid shows that:

  • SMS policies, require the least amount of documentation; and
  • Records require the most amount of documentation.

What Are Best Practices for Documenting SMS Policy

The top tier in SMS documentation is SMS policy documentation. This is:

  • Your safety policy that satisfies compliance, which includes things like CEO commitment to safety and non-punitive reporting policy, etc.
  • Other safety policy elements that are specific to your organization.

Best practices for documenting your SMS policy are:

  • Implement safety policies before any other SMS implementation elements;
  • Make sure your policies capture company goals;
  • Make sure your policy documentation is concise and readable;
  • Include safety policy in multiple languages that are most relevant to your organization;
  • Make sure that safety policy documentation is communicated regularly, and readily available in your organization.

Safety policy documentation will be of similar size in both small and large organizations, as policies will include highly similar element.

What Are Best Practices for Documenting SMS Procedures/Processes

The second tier of SMS documentation is procedures documentation. This will require more documentation than policy.

Best practices for SMS procedure documentation is to make sure that each procedure shows

  • How your organization conduct safety;
  • Who is responsible for accomplishing the procedure;
  • What the procedure is;
  • When the procedure is performed, such as how often and at what time; and
  • Where the procedure is performed (if applicable).

Larger organizations will have many more procedures that smaller organizations. When reviewing your safety procedures, make sure that:

  • They show each of the above points; and
  • That the procedure reflects actual operations.

Your procedures should include things like:

What Are Best Practices for Documenting SMS Work Instructions

SMS work instructions are documentation elements that:

  • Provide specific details about to accomplish job tasks;
  • Fill further define how procedures are accomplished; and
  • Usually are based off of a specific job title.

Each SMS procedure will most likely have multiple work instructions. For example, a process for managing reported issues may have job tasks for:

 Best practices for documenting work tasks are:

  • Each job should have work task documentation;
  • Checklists make some of the best work task documentation;
  • Checklists would be part of your classification, so you can monitor the value and efficacy of checklists;
  • Checklists should be created in tandem with the people responsible for fulfilling them; and
  • You should receive direct feedback from the roles fulfilling work tasks.

The last two points are especially important. Roles performing their tasks are often experts in the best way that a task can be done. The safety manager’s role is to make sure that the task is being done in a way that complies with safety policies and safety requirements.

What Are Best Practices for Documenting SMS Records

SMS records will compose the vast majority of your SMS documentation, especially as your SMS ages. SMS records documentation includes:

  • All reported issues;
  • All actions taken on each issue (such as analysis, CPAs created, etc.);
  • Reasons why actions were taken on each issue;
  • All risk controls in company;
  • All identified hazards; and
  • All identified risk scenarios.

SMS audits will generally investigate much further into your SMS records than any other area of documentation. Most findings occur in their area of documentation as well. The best practices for good SMS document are:

Systems that follow these points will have nearly all of their SMS records managed automatically.


To see how SMS documentation is fulfilled in top systems, see out demo videos:

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Topics: Quality-Safety Management

Site content provided by Northwest Data Solutions is meant for informational purposes only. Opinions presented here are not provided by any civil aviation authority or standards body.



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