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15 Most Important Keywords in Safety Management Systems (SMS)

Posted by Tyler Britton on Jul 26, 2023 6:06:00 PM

Importance of Keywords in Aviation SMS

15 Most Important Keywords in Safety Management Systems (SMS)

Keywords in Aviation Safety Management Systems (SMS) are the most important words that new or experienced aviation safety professionals need to know. Usage of the correct terminology in the aviation industry is important for stakeholders to understand particular contexts in which safety events may occur and also any nuances that may cloud definitions due to regional differences or the introduction of unfamiliar technology.

SMS keywords are not just for safety personnel, but rather for all people who interact with the SMS' risk management system, including:

  • Accountable executives;
  • Operational department heads;
  • Safety inspectors in quality assurance departments;
  • Regulatory compliance auditors; and
  • Line employees exposed to operational hazards.

Related Aviation SMS Risk Management Articles

What Are Keywords in Aviation Safety Management Systems

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 aviation SMS, keywords are simply the most important concepts to know in order to comprehend:

  • What an aviation SMS is;
  • How the SMS' interrelated components work;
  • The purpose of aviation SMS;
  • How aviation SMS is unique from traditional safety programs;
  • Core concepts of the SMS' risk management processes.

Here are the 15 most important keywords in aviation safety management systems.

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1 – What Hazards Are in Risk Management

There are two ways to define hazards in risk management.

Most commonly, they are assumed to be a “dangerous condition” that leads 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 involves 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.

Related Articles on Using Risk Matrix in Aviation SMS Context

4 – What Accidents Are in Aviation SMS

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

  • Damage to equipment, vehicles, facilities 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, there is often overlap between Accidents and Consequences, with no clear line to easily distinguish them.

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5 - What Consequences Are Related to Hazards in Aviation SMS

Consequences are the end result of 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 frustratingly vague. Consequences have a certain “business flavor” such as:

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

Related Aviation Hazard Articles

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 what new aviation SMS implementations practice initially as operators begin their SMS implementation. After an event happens, management reacts by putting out the fire.

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 activities. Reactive risk management techniques are an equal and indispensable type of action on the part of management for achieving safety performance.

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7 - Predictive Risk Management

Ground operation airport

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

  • Hypothetical "what-if" scenarios;
  • Trend analysis on historical safety data;
  • Safety cases; and
  • Management of change activities.

Predictive risk management is sort of like stress-testing an SMS implementation 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 an SMS implementation's safety culture matures and reactive risk management processes have been fully developed and practiced, there will be more time and opportunity to begin to practice proactive risk management strategies.

Related Aviation SMS Risk Management Articles

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; the 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 organizational safety goals and objectives should be considered. Over time, the list of KPIs should change in response to both changes:

  • environment; and
  • safety goals and objectives of the company.

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10 - Safety Performance

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

  1. Compliance;
  2. Exposure;
  3. Safety Culture; and
  4. Continuous improvement.

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

Related Articles on Monitoring Safety Performance in Aviation SMS

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 an aviation SMS risk management process, risk assessments are documented using a risk matrix that displays increasing levels of probability and servility in a grid of cells that run both horizontally and vertically.

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 due to interaction.

Download Free Aviation Hazard Classifications List

13 - Risk Controls

Risk controls are measures taken to mitigate exposure of potentially dangerous conditions and/or accidents. Risk controls are "control measures" that can be of the following types:

  • Elimination - Physically remove the hazard;
  • Substitution - Replace the hazard;
  • Engineering - Isolate assets from the hazard;
  • Administrative - Change the way people and equipment interact with the hazard; and
  • PPE - Protect workers with "Personal Protective Equipment."

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

Related Articles on Risk Controls in Aviation SMS

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 have limited protections from management as long as the employee was not engaged in criminal or negligent behavior. To strengthen safety reporting cultures, employees must 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 until they have been de-identified.

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.

Put your keyword knowledge to the test with this FREE hazard and risk assessment test. There are two tests available to suit the needs of all aviation service providers.

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Last updated in July 2023.

Topics: Risk Management Training

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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