Safety Management System: Description and Benefits

Evolution of Safety Management System (SMS)

Safety Management System has been prevalent in many countries for years but safety managers do not know how to talk in an economic language that others would understand the costs of operating in an unsafe environment. In the past, aviation safety improvement was mostly done through investigative approach. For instance, when accidents take place, it is investigated to find the causes and recommendations are made to prevent that from future happening. Nonetheless, today it is realized that it could be more productive to introduce safety management system in organizations to foster operations in a safer way.

As a result, ICAO develops an SMS Manual as guidance for all States to develop regulatory framework for implementation of SMS. ICAO is recommending that all States implement Safety Management System at operations and maintenance departments. All ICAO States are expected to establish a State Safety Programme to incorporate a set of rules and regulations for directing activities towards improvement of safety.

ICAO Definition Of SMS

Safety management system is defined as a competent approach to safety. It is a system that deals with safety characteristics throughout an organization. The system offers a systematic way of categorizing hazards and managing risks pledging that these controls are effectual. Safety management system is expected to be incepted into an organization and becomes part of the culture; the manner people do their job.

Introduction of Safety Management System

According to recent studies, accidents are caused by human error. However, changing people to avoid these accidents from taking place will never be possible, therefore safety management system is introduced as an approach to safety, at which causal factors can be identified, and remedial actions can then be addressed. Aviation threats in today’s environment are more related to organization’s issues, hence safer system must be achieved through an organization action.
The implementation of safety management will enable an organization to recognize and mitigate danger and threats that could be stirring within an organization from time to time. With safety management system does not mean zero hazards or risks, it only prepares the management to proactively recognize and control threats before leading into catastrophe. If threats and risks can be prevented before turning into disaster this will help the organization to save money from paying those unexpected costs.

Implications of Safety Management System

The purpose of SMS is to support a move away from regulatory that specify criteria that should be adhered to, towards performance-based regulations which describe objectives and allow each regulated entity to develop its own system for achieving the objectives. It is expected that an industry must develop its own policies and systems to reduce risk, which should include implementing systems for reporting and correcting shortcomings. More importantly, safety program will reduce direct or indirect costs that could have been incurred without the implementation of safety management system.
Despite the fact that SMS is an important advance in safety management, it can only be effective through its implementation. SMS allows organizations to ensure that all risks are all covered within the organization as a single system, rather than having multiple competing Safety Management entities. If safety is not seen holistically, it can interfere with the prioritization of improvements or even result in safety issues being misses. In such cases it can be presumed that the company had put too much emphasis on personal safety thus ignoring the safety of their processes. The best way to remedy such entity thinking is through proper evaluation of all risks a key aspect of an effective SMS.

Safety Benefits of an SMS

An SMS is basically an eminence management approach to controlling risk providing an outline to support safety culture within an organization. SMS forms the centre of the company’s safety efforts and serves as a practical means of linking up with other systems. It also provides the company’s management with a systematic roadmap for examining safety-related processes.

Safety Management System is proven to be an effective management tool of achieving safety within an organization and an industry as a whole. Although all organizations differ from each other, there are common benefits that can be shared among them;

  • A proactive method of improving safety rather than the old reactive approach, primarily after an accident
  • Reduced loss of life and injuries through prevention of accidents and incidents
  • Improved employees satisfaction through involvement in the process
  • More efficient interface with regulatory authorities

Business Benefits of an SMS

The development and implementation of an SMS will not only allow aviation service providers to accomplish their legal responsibilities but will definitely provide significant business benefits. ICAO SMS Manual comprises internal appraisal and quality assertion concepts that can result in more controlled management and continuous improvement of operational processes. The SMS outlined in ICAO Manual is designed to allow incorporation of safety efforts into the operator’s business model and to assimilate other systems such as quality, occupational safety, and environmental control systems that operators might already have in place or might be considering. It has been reported that operators who have integrated SMS into their business models benefits them financially as well.

These organizations gain financial benefits through achieving the following business benefits;

  • Stability, safety and customer support – customers are aware some operations are safer than others
  • Possible reduction in insurance premiums through demonstration of control of safety risks
  • Good work/life balance practices, for example adjustment of rosters to avoid most tiring shift/sector will give safety benefits, and can also improve staff/crew morale – potentially lowering staff turnover and reducing training costs
  • A proactive approach to safety can be demonstrated with documented evidence in the event of an incident or accident

How organizations benefits financially

Through a successfully implemented SMS, organizations will allow better compliance with regulations and other requirements that in turn minimizing adverse result of an event. Additionally, it will allow employees and passengers to identify potential hazards that may jeopardize their health and safety. More importantly, SMS will have positive impacts on staff by creating trusts, increased morale which leads into better performance. SMS will definitely help an organization to prevent catastrophic accidents making it safer and therefore attracts more clients which in turn benefiting it financially.

However, in the case of doing nothing or unsuccessful implementation of SMS can lead into experiencing a loss, or critically assesses for both direct and indirect costs of an incidence. These consequences are unlikely to be appreciated and usually the worse scenarios are the indirect costs as they are more difficult to assess, these are often not covered or fully compensated by the company’s insurance. This includes items as;

  • Loss of business and reputation
  • Legal fees and damage claims
  • Medical costs not covered by workers’ compensation
  • Cost of lost use of equipments (loss of income)
  • Time list by injured persons and cost of replacement workers
  • Increased insurance premiums
  • Aircraft recovery and clean-up
  • Fines

Ergonomics Benefits

The air transport industry is filled with potential risks and unsafe conditions which cannot be all eliminated; despite the fact that operations must continue. The reality is that air transport operators and related service industries must generate a profit to be sustainable. Profit or loss is the immediate indicator of the company’s success in meeting its production target. The prime objective of a company should not be to purely maximize the profit but also the avoidance of loss. Hence, safety is a prerequisite for a successful and profitable aviation business. Therefore, it is vital that SMS is implemented so risks and hazards can be identified and mitigated before turning into catastrophic and to realize safety pitfalls existing within the system.
On the other hand, ergonomics is all about changing the workplace to best-fit the worker’s comfort to optimize human well-being and interaction through modifying or redesigning the job, workstation, tool, SOPs or environment. Good ergonomic design makes the most efficient use of employees’ capabilities while ensuring that job demands do not exceed those capabilities.
While the primary goal of ergonomics is to minimize employee exposure to ergonomic hazards that lead to disturbance disorders and related injuries and illnesses, implementing SMS within organizations will have the following positive ergonomics effects:

  • Improved safety and health in the workplace
  • Improved employee morale and job satisfaction
  • Improved productivity
  • Improved quality of work
  • Improved competitiveness in the marketplace
  • Reduced probability of accidents and errors
  • Reduced absenteeism and employee turnover
  • Reduced medical and workers' compensation costs associated with cumulative trauma disorders

Ergonomics is a constant progression, not just an immediate repair. Constant awareness and cooperation among responsible groups is fundamental to an effective ergonomics program. Ergonomics is a mixture of good performance, work practices and optimizing the environment. There is nothing supernatural about it, every person and situation possesses unique challenges for fitting all the pieces together.

1. Billings, E, C .(1997).Aviation automation: the search for a human centered approach. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
2. Stolzer, A. J., Halford, C. D., & Goglia, J. J. (2008). Safety Management Systems in Aviation, Burlington: Ashgate
3. Hopkin, D., & Garland, J. D. (2010). Handbook of aviation human factors (2nd ed.),Boca Raton: CRC Press

Want to know more?
SMS public website designed by FAA for those who are keen to learn more on SMS
Global aviation site for courses offered on SMS should you wish to attend to learn more
NZ CAA website; an excellent example for designing SMS policies for your organisation
ICAO best site which provides resources for all States in the area of SMS
An excellent website that will guide you through several Phases on how the SMS requirements will be met and integrated to the organization’s work activities, as well as an accountability framework for the implementation of the SMS
A detailed website of usernomics explaining how they can assist with workplace ergonomics, lists the most important areas of enhancing the workplace for employees

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