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Making Sense of SMS - A Beginner’s Perspective

Posted by Aviation Safety Student on Aug 17, 2018 7:11:00 AM

What Is This SMS Thing?

What is SMS? A beginner’s perspective

What’s the first thing you do when you want to answer a question? You Google it, right? Well, when you Google "aviation SMS, this is what the FAA will tell you:

“SMS is the formal, top-down, organization-wide approach to managing safety risk and assuring the effectiveness of safety risk controls. It includes systematic procedures, practices, and policies for the management of safety risk.” FAA Order 8000.369

But What Does That Mean?

Being the curious spirit that I am, I started digging.

At its core, a SMS or Safety Management System is a framework to support proactive risk management. A definition that at first glance doesn’t tell us much. As I’ve learned about SMS, I’ve come to think of it like a toolbox.

Your toolbox may start out as an empty box, but it’s got room to grow, it’s scalable. You add some basic tools, and as time goes by you add more advanced ones to tackle more advanced projects. After awhile, each time you open it, you find the exact tool you need.

Download FAA Gap Analysis Checklist

SMS is our toolbox for safety, and there’s no job more important.

Our toolbox has four large drawers (also known as pillars) that we’ll fill with tools to help make our operations safer for everyone. Once we’ve collected all our tools, we’ll be prepared to put it to use.

  • Safety Policy
  • Safety Risk Management
  • Safety Assurance
  • Safety Promotion

Let’s break down what we need to stock each of those drawers.

Safety Policy As First SMS Pillar

While it may seem like the easiest part of your SMS, the safety policy is more than just a signed document from senior management. There are several things our safety policy drawer needs:

  • Management Commitment
  • Safety Accountabilities
  • Key Safety Personnel
  • Emergency Response Planning
  • SMS Documentation

Safety Risk Management As Second SMS Pillar

There are many specialized tools available for safety risk management or SRM, but the purpose is to find the hazards and risks inherent in the system and control for them. While you’ll acquire more and more specialized tools for the job, these are your basics:

Safety Assurance As Third SMS Pillar

The policy has been laid out and the controls put in place, but we can’t rest on our laurels just yet. Part of a SMS is making sure those policies and controls are implemented and functioning as planned. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Safety Performance Monitoring and Measurement
  • Management of Change
  • Continuous Improvement

Safety Promotion As Fourth SMS Pillar

Finally, everyone needs to be on-board, or our system will be a pretty dream rather than a functional tool. To build a culture of safety, we only need two things, but they’re important ones:

  • Training and Education
  • Safety Communication

Seems Like a Lot of Work

Sure, but it is worthwhile work. It’s easy to put safety on a back-burner, and most of us do. Sadly, that back-burner eventually erupts into flames and it’s a lot more trouble to put it out than it would have been to simply pay attention in the first place.

A good SMS can help us to get ahead of the curve and prevent injuries and accidents from ever happening. When accidents don’t happen, we save time and money. Not to mention stress, which we could all use less of.

Each of these parts could be an article on their own, and many of them are. I’ll be digging into SMS more and more over the upcoming weeks and I hope you’ll join me. I’m just getting started with this SMS journey and it’s bound to be a wild ride.

Download SMS Implementation Plan

Topics: 4 Pillars

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