The Key to Aviation Safety: Safety Management Systems

Safety is always the top priority in aviation. Manufacturers and operators have implemented great technologies to enhance safety in flight and on the ground. The Safety Management System (SMS) is becoming a standard throughout the aviation industry worldwide. Similar management systems are also implemented to manage other critical stages in operations such as medical, occupational safety and environmental business practices. In this article, we check out some of the characteristics of the Safety Management Systems which help enhance the safety culture in aviation.

What is the SMS?

An aviation Safety Management System commonly refers to processes and tools to formally manage a structured safety programme. Adopting and actively using an SMS has proven to help reduce safety-related incidents. Airlines and service providers have procedures/processes in place for all operational functions to prevent accidents and incidents and to ensure compliance with applicable regulations as well as customer requirements.

An SMS helps operators and service providers to improve the safety of their operations through the following components:

Safety Management System – Components (Source: Federal Aviation Administration)
Safety Management System – Components (Source: Federal Aviation Administration)

Source: Federal Aviation Administration

Safety policies

For establishing a fully functional SMS, an operator should be committed to establishing and maintaining policies and procedures that ensure all tasks will be performed safely.

The acknowledgment of the organisation’s commitment to safety is a top priority of implementing an SMS. The duties and responsibilities are stated under the framework for management and are accountable for the business using safe practices throughout its commercial operations.

Safety Risk Management

Safety Risk Management includes the tools and methods to identify hazards, assessments & mitigation actions, and then monitoring risks in operation. Safety reporting allows employees to report any incidents to the right person gathering information in black & white. This proactive communication system ensures a proactive approach to managing safety, creating a process of identifying, assessing, treating, and monitoring operations risks.

Risk management processes may improve where the entire organisation collectively works towards the day-to-day identification and management of risks. This requires employees to be aware of safety processes and to identify hazards that their organisation is exposed to and likely to encounter.

Risk assessment helps determine the consequences if a hazard is identified, the extent to which hazards may interact or compound, and the process and timeline in which these hazards should ideally be resolved. This requires implementing control to mitigate the risk and then monitoring and reviewing how that control is addressing the risk.

The Example of Risk Assessment Matrix: A tool used for ranking risk in operation. (Source: ICAO)
An example of a risk assessment matrix, a tool used for ranking risk in operation. (Source: ICAO)

Above, you can see an example of a risk assessment matrix which is a tool used for ranking risk in operation. The risk assessment values are determined by the scores for the probability and severity values. The higher the risk assessment, the greater the overall risk for the operation. This method helps companies to balance the weight of severity and probability and to determine if further actions might be needed. ( Source: ICAO)

Colour coding is also in place to identify the range of each level:

Green: The risk is acceptable and the company shall continuously monitor the risk.

Yellow: The risk tolerable; however, the company shall put effort to control and mitigate the risk to” As Low As Reasonably Practicable”(ALARP).

Red: The operation shall be stopped and mitigation actions shall be conducted to lower the risk to ” As Low As Reasonably Practicable” (ALARP).

Safety assurance

Safety assurance represents the commitment and proactive measures for evaluating any incidents or near-misses in operations. A measurement system/monitoring the SMS develops a structured approach to safety initiatives, resulting in continuous evaluation and contributing to constant improvement. Organisations should be aware of how to use existing information to evaluate the current SMS and implement new SMS changes.

Safety promotion and training

Establishing an adequate training and education programme for employees contributes to an effective SMS. With solid safety knowledge and skills, staff can identify, manage and resolve safety risks, leading them to conduct their work safely. Encouraging employees to express their thoughts on safety proactively contributes to a successful SMS.

Safety training should be conducted before staff conduct their duty.
Safety training should be conducted before staff conduct their duty.

Best practice states that senior management should set an example for safe working practices. Ideally, a new employee should also have the ability to acknowledge the management commitment to safety and direct reporting flow in expressing safety matters to the superiors and even the top management.

If you have found this article interesting and would like to know more about more aviation, please stay tuned for the coming articles!

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Michael Cheng
Michael Cheng
Aviation Reporter - Based in Hong Kong, Michael is an Aviation Journalist here at Travel Radar, covering industry insights across Asia as well as international technical development within the industry. With the solid experience in airline ground operations, Michael is currently a Quality Assurance and Compliance Monitoring Officer with a large ground-operations company. In his spare time, Michael is an avid flight-simulation fan, serving in a senior marketing role for a large multiplayer server. Alongside this, he makes regular appearances at workshops and conferences across the aviation industry


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