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?
Regardless, we (SMS Pro team) consider the ICAO Document 9859 the bible of SMS, but they don't specifically mention the "Four Pillars."
Related Articles on Aviation SMS Four Pillars
- Who Started Four Pillars of Safety Management in Aviation?
- History of Aviation SMS and Four Pillars - with Free Tools
- Which of the Four Pillars of SMS Carries the Most Weight?
Instead of all four pillars, we'll focus on "Safety Assurance." What does it mean, and how do aviation service providers' safety teams 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 your 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 operators use their implementation plans for safety assurance?
1. Opposite Ends of ICAO SMS Implementation Plan Workflow
For those unfamiliar with the ICAO SMS implementation guidelines, there are four phases to take an operator from 0 to 60 mph in three or four years:
- Planning SMS Implementation;
- Reactive Safety Management Processes;
- Proactive and Predictive Safety Management 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 may have fully implemented SMS programs, at least on paper, and maybe not in practice. How can I assume this? Safety managers still trying to figure out how to spell SMS are not ready for Safety Assurance activities; therefore, I'm assuming you have an operating SMS and you are trying to monitor your "system."
Related Articles on Aviation SMS Implementation
- 6 Questions & Downloads for Starting an Aviation SMS Implementation
- Is Your Aviation SMS Implementation a Farce?
- SMS First Steps - How to Create an SMS Implementation Plan
For operators with fully implemented aviation 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 are not concerned with planning activities. This is not always a bad thing, but there must always be a return to the plan to ensure the implementation plan's activities are continuing to be effective. Otherwise, your airline or airport won't have a sustainable SMS.
2. Half-Hearted Completion of Earlier SMS Program Activities
Top management expects results, especially when they are expected to comply with SMS 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. Too much of this behavior will lead you to have a "paper SMS."
Example: "Conduct a gap analysis" is a Phase 1 SMS implementation activity.
Safety manager may say, "OK, I did the gap analysis, and there are some deficiencies. Now I can check the box."
In the early, excited, motivated days of the nascent aviation SMS, there may not have been a much earnest effort to correct the deficiencies identified during the gap analysis. 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.
Once you have reached phase four of your SMS implementation, then you can reduce the frequency of the "recurring" gap analysis to every two or three years.
Where do you think you are with your SMS implementation? Here are four quick surveys to accurately gauge your SMS' maturity. When you are doing these surveys, be honest. An honest assessment will benefit your company later when an SMS auditor comes to visit.
SMS Implementation Phase Surveys to Check SMS Maturity
Using Implementation Plan for Safety Assurance Activities
Reviewing the blueprints of aviation 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.
If you are just starting your aviation SMS implementation, I recommend adopting an SMS database very early on to reduce risk to your SMS. In order to later demonstrate continuous improvement of the SMS, you will need an effective way to manage all the SMS documentation requirements. We can help.
These three videos advise as to move to the predictive and proactive phase of your SMS implementation using the Risk Management Solution.
Last updated June 2023.