Why Create an Aviation SMS Manual?
ICAO 9859 calls for aviation organizations to document their SMS. This can be a simple document referencing the policies and procedures or a detailed manual.
If you run a small operation, or many process are already in place, a simple document might be all you need.
Most organizations will need a detailed manual. An SMS manual shares much in common with your quality manual, if you conveniently have one.
An SMS manual includes documentation of your safety management system. This starts with the philosophy and the policy statements that define your SMS. It will also include all the processes and procedures that make up your SMS.
If this sounds like a lot, that’s because it is.
So why go through all the trouble? ICAO calls for one, which means your local civil aviation authority (CAA) probably does as well. But there’s another good reason to create a high-quality SMS manual.
A well-crafted manual provides transparency, which in turn fosters a healthy safety culture.
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Where Do I Start?
You’ll start assembling your SMS manual as soon as you start implementation. Regardless, you’ll start creating the pieces anyway. As you build the policies, processes, and procedures of your SMS, you’ll document them and add them to your manual.
Don’t try to sit down and write your SMS manual all at once. Rather, treat it like a gallery. You’ll collect the pieces and arrange them in a way that makes them useful and easily accessible.
Make a list of things to include in your SMS manual. Your gap analysis and implementation plan will offer considerable guidance here. Include or reference processes already in place and then create placeholders for sections that have yet to be created.
Looking to ICAO for SMS Manual Guidance
Another method is presented in Appendix 4 to Chapter 5 of ICAO 9859. Their format suggests 15 sections with standardized subheadings. This example is a good place to start if you’re not sure what should go into your manual.
What Does an SMS Manual Need?
Guidance for what "needs" to be in your SMS manual is scarce. It should include all the policies and procedures in your safety management system, but it should also be readable. Any SMS manual that puts your employees to sleep will likely do very little for your safety culture.
Your SMS manual should include two things: policies and procedures. Some relevant policies and procedures might already exist in other documents. For example, your document review schedule might be in your quality management manual.
If you opt for a simple document, list the whereabouts of the policies and procedures that make up your SMS. Refer readers to the appropriate resources. In a detailed manual, you'll include most policies and procedures in their entirety.
In either case, your finished manual should be accessible by all employees. If it is a physical location, make sure that every employee is afforded convenient access.
Where to Store Your Aviation SMS Manual?
I've seen manuals placed on high shelves that required employees to use a ladder to retrieve them. I've also seen them placed in manager's offices where employees have to ask a manager for them.
These places discourage employees from accessing your company's SMS manual. Make it easy for them to use it, and they will. If you can, make it digital so that they can access the manual whenever and wherever they need it.
Need help with your safety policy? Check out these free templates.
How Should I Format My SMS Manual?
A digital format also allows employees to search for relevant information. This can be particularly useful if you have a complicated program.
You can also make your manual user-friendly by using consistent formatting. If you have other manuals, such as a quality manual, format your SMS manual similarly. When your formatting is consistent, it will be easier for employees to reference. Again, the easier it is to use, the more likely your employees are to use it.
Finally, try to keep the language simple and easy to read. Use words that your employees understand and keep your sentences concise. Make use of white space around your text and bullet points to make your document easier to read.
Keeping My SMS Manual Up to Date
Manuals are only useful when they are up to date.
Changes may come along as time passes and your operating environment evolves. Don't be afraid to update your manual between formal reviews. Keeping your manual in a digital format will make this easier.
You'll create a valuable tool for your SMS by:
- creating your manual as you build your program,
- paying careful attention to how you format and present it, and
- keeping it up to date as changes occur.
A good manual is just one way to support your SMS.
Your safety policy provides the framework for your SMS manual.
How does your safety policy stack up?
Published September 2018. Last updated August 2019.