Aviation Safety Policy? More than Just Empty Words...
Safety managers are commonly the invisible authors to many safety policies show-cased at aviation service providers worldwide. After all, safety managers are the "supposed" subject matter experts and the accountable executive is busy doing "accountable executive stuff."
When you are assigned to manage an aviation safety management system (SMS), one of the first tasks is to either create or review the aviation safety policy.
Where do you begin?
How many words should be in the safety policy?
What writing style should this safety policy adapt?
Am I writing to impress management?
Or am I writing for the lowest common denominator?
This article hopes to answer these questions and also offer a free template for you to either:
- Start your aviation SMS safety policy; or
- Review your safety policy against one of the free policy templates.
Related Aviation Safety Policy Articles
- Writing Awesome Aviation Safety Policy Statements
- How to Promote Your Aviation SMS Safety Policy
- How to Know if Your Aviation Safety Policy Is Complete
Creating an Aviation Safety Policy That Resonates!
There are so many elements that safety managers must consider when drafting a safety policy for management approval. Let's be honest. How many accountable executives are writing their own safety policies? This is implicitly passed to the safety manager who then provides the content for accountable executives' signature.
When drafting the aviation SMS safety policy, write it so an eight grader can read it and understand what you want them to take away. Unfortunately, most adults have an eight-grade reading level. Best practices to follow include:
- Using short sentences;
- Avoid ambiguous words or fluff;
- Use bullet points to break up content; and
- Effectively use white-space to make the document less formidable.
Less Is More for Aviation Safety Policies
When writing your SMS' safety policy, be genuine and to the point. The truth is that most users will only glance through the high points. This is why bullet points and white-space are important for your end-users.
When you start adding sweet sounding, idealistic phrases to the safety policy, your users are going to roll up their eyes and think, "here is another batch of bull from management."
Remember, there are many important elements to a safety policy. There is no room for fluff else your readers will not bother to read it.
You should also post the safety policy in font large enough for older audiences. Employees that are over 50 may have troubles seeing small fonts. What do they do when they cannot see something clearly? They ignore it, of course.
Safety Policies Don't Have to Be Perfect the First Time
Most aviation service providers already have a safety policy. It is possible that your SMS' safety policy was:
- Copied directly from an online resource;
- Created by a safety consultant (who probably copied from #1);
- Inherited and unmodified from an SMS developed years ago; or
- Never reviewed critically after the initial creation and acceptance by the accountable executive.
The point is: your safety policy must be reviewed on a regular basis. Apply changes as environmental pressures cause your operations and SMS priorities to change.
Document that the policy was reviewed. Place "Last reviewed by xxxx" and "Date" artifacts onto the document so auditors can see this policy is a living, breathing document.
Safety policies don't have to be perfect, but they must be sincere and written for the intended audience: employees and stakeholders. Too often we see SMS guidance that tells you what should be in the policy and what auditors are looking for. This guidance is written from SMS consultants' viewpoints or from regulatory authorities who are trying to "help you do it correctly." What happens is that safety managers (authors of most aviation SMS safety policies) are thinking about the SMS auditors when they draft these VERY important and useful policy documents.
Write for the audience. Don't write for the auditors.
Related Articles on Auditors in Aviation SMS
- Aviation Safety Audit Preparation - 4 Free SMS Audit Checklist Templates
- 5 Ways to Prepare for Aviation SMS Audits
- Audit Checklist: 10 Things to Prepare for Aviation SMS Audits
Writing SMS Safety Policies for Wrong Audience
Another logical tendency is that safety managers are writing safety policies to impress the accountable executive and upper management. This is perfectly understandable, as safety managers want to establish themselves as:
- resourceful; and
- the person to have at your back.
In their attempts to impress management, safety managers forget about the true audience who really NEEDS to benefit from this safety policy. The safety policy establishes expectations from employees and demonstrates commitment to the SMS by the accountable executive. Therefore, the safety policy must be written to engender trust and dispel suspicion that the SMS is for the benefit of management, and not in the best interests of the employees and the organization.
Start from a Template When Creating or Revising a Safety Policy
Don't bother recreating the wheel when creating your safety policy. You will be wasting considerable time. Start with a template. Templates are also useful when reviewing an existing safety policy. After all, every ICAO compliant aviation (SMS) must have a mechanism in place to ensure all policies and procedures are reviewed regularly.
Reviewing aviation policies and procedures doesn't have to be elaborate. Either put a reminder into your work calendar or schedule the task with your aviation SMS software tool of choice. More popular, full-featured aviation SMS databases have built-in safety policies and procedures modules that make your policies and procedures available to all employees. This is another argument to use an SMS database to manage SMS requirements. Yes, an SMS safety policy is required for operators needing to comply with SMS.
Where Is Your Safety Policy Stored?
This brings up a very good point, and I'll hit this again. Where do you store your safety policy?
- In your SMS manual behind the safety manager's desk?
- On the network's shared drive?
- In your SMS database accessible to all employees?
- On the company's website?
Safety policies don't do any good unless employees can find them when they need them. Make it easy for employees, otherwise, they will ignore them. High employee turnover requires safety managers to frequently communicate the contents of safety policies to new employees. In these cases, a best practice is to ensure new employees read the safety policy as part of their SMS induction, which is part of their initial SMS training.
Related Aviation SMS Training Articles
- Why Employees Can’t Stand Aviation SMS Training
- 5 Tips Creating Aviation SMS Training Materials for Phase 2 - with SMS Checklist
- 3 Critical Topics for Aviation SMS Training to Focus On
Final Thoughts on Aviation Safety Policies
Many companies don't take their safety policy seriously. During the initial SMS implementation, the safety policy is often a rushed requirement that is simply:
- Drafted for the accountable executive;
- Put into a book; and
This was not the intent of the safety policy. When performed earnestly and written for the correct audience, the safety policy exercises a powerful influence in shaping your safety culture. In fact, the safety policy becomes the bedrock of your aviation SMS.
Below are some safety policy templates we've acquired over the past dozen years. Use them as guides. Plagiarize them if you like, but please change the company name wherever appropriate. We hope you find them useful.
Published August 2015. Last updated January 2020.