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Basis Key Point

SMS is all about safety decision-making throughout the organization.

Technology and system improvements have made great contributions to safety. However, part of being safe is about attitudes and paying attention to what your surroundings are telling you. Whether through data or through the input of employees and others, recognizing that many opportunities exist to stop an accident is the first step in moving from reactive to predictive thinking.

Consider this following hypothetical scenario.

Safety begins from both the top down and the bottom up. Everyone from the receptionist, ramp worker, pilot, manager, and FAA Inspector has a role to perform.

SMS is all about decision-making. Thus it has to be a decision-maker's tool, not a traditional safety program separate and distinct from business and operational decision making.

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Hypothetical Scenario Demonstrating the Need for SMS

A well-designed aircraft with a history of reliable service is being prepared for a charter flight. Employees tow the aircraft from the hangar to the terminal. One employee sees wetness on the right tire as he unhooks the tow bar. However, he does not give it attention, as he is very busy and has three other aircraft to move in the next 15 minutes.

At the same time, a safety inspector is walking through the hangar when she encounters a hydraulic oil spill on the hangar floor. She notifies a janitor to clean up the slip hazard as she leaves. While cleaning the spill, the janitor wonders aloud where the spill came from. Afterwards, both the inspector and the janitor continue with their respective jobs.

Meanwhile, the Chief Pilot assigns the charter flight to a new pilot with the company. While new to the company, the pilot is well trained and prepared for the flight. He is also eager to do a good job and to impress the chief pilot. The chief tells him that the passengers and the aircraft are waiting at the terminal, and the new pilot has to get over there right away to keep the clients happy and on schedule.

The flight requires a little more fuel, so a fuel truck is called. While the aircraft is being filled, the fueler notices a small puddle of reddish fluid under the right main landing gear. He sees the pilot walking out to the aircraft, but before he can say anything, his supervisor calls and tells him to get right over to another aircraft. Recently, the fueler was criticized by his supervisor for taking too long to finish his work, so he quickly jumps in his truck and drives off to the next job without saying anything to the pilot.

The pilot, wanting to make a good impression on his passengers and the chief pilot, personally escorts them to the aircraft and begins his preparation for the flight. One passenger asks him a brief question as he is on the right side of the aircraft. In a moment of distraction, he does not bend down to inspect the right hand main landing gear.

During taxi, the pilot feels the aircraft is taking the bumps a little hard, but continues to the runway for take-off. Meanwhile, up in the tower, an air traffic controller, who happens to like this particular model of aircraft, picks up her binoculars to take a look at the taxiing aircraft. She notices a "wet spot" on the right main tire and radios the pilot. The pilot tells the controller that he probably ran over a puddle and asks for his clearance.

At the destination airport, the pilot executes a perfect landing and applies the brakes. The leaking hydraulic fluid heats up and ignites. The right main landing gear is engulfed in flames. The controller notifies the pilot and then calls the crash fire rescue squad. The pilot calmly and proficiently manages the situation, successfully evacuating everyone from the aircraft without injury. The pilot and passengers watch from a safe distance while a perfectly good aircraft burns to the ground. "How could this have happened?" wonders the pilot.

Soon afterwards, the pilot is fired for failure to perform an adequate preflight inspection. Six months later, an aircraft is being towed out of a hanger. One of the employees sees wetness on the left main landing gear tire as he unhooks the tow bar...

Evolution of Safety Management


Safety Management Systems (SMSs) are the product of a continuing evolution in aviation safety. Early aviation pioneers had little safety regulation, practical experience, or engineering knowledge to guide them. Over time, careful regulation of aviation activities, operational experience, and improvements in technology have contributed to significant gains in safety. In the next major phase of improvement to safety, a focus on individual and crew performance or "Human Factors" further reduced accidents.

Each approach has led to significant gains in safety. However, even with these significant advances, we still have opportunities to take preventative action against accidents. The question for the aviation community is, "what is the next step?"

Careful analysis typically reveals multiple opportunities for actions that could have broken the chain of events and possibly prevented an accident. These opportunities represent the organization's role in accident prevention. The term "organizational accident" was developed to describe accidents that have causal factors related to organizational decisions and attitudes. SMS is an approach to improving safety at the organizational level.

How Safety Management System (SMS) Addresses the Organization's Role in Safety

SMS requires the organization itself to examine its operations and the decisions around those operations. SMS allows an organization to adapt to change, increasing complexity, and limited resources. SMS will also promote the continuous improvement of safety through specific methods to predict hazards from employee reports and data collection. Organizations will then use this information to analyze, assess, and control risk. Part of the process will also include the monitoring of controls and of the system itself for effectiveness. SMS will help organizations comply with existing regulations while predicting the need for future action by sharing knowledge and information. Finally, SMS includes requirements that will enhance the safety attitudes of an organization by changing the safety culture of leadership, management, and employees. All of these changes are designed to help the organization incorporate all three forms of rationale—reactive, proactive, and predictive thinking.


Support Builds as Benefits Become Apparent

SMS has generated wide support in the aviation community as an effective approach that can deliver real safety and financial benefits. SMSs integrate modern safety concepts into repeatable, proactive processes in a single system, emphasizing safety management as a fundamental business process to be considered in the same manner as other aspects of business management. The structure of SMS provides organizations greater insight into their operational environment, generating process efficiencies and cost avoidance. Some participants have found that benefits begin to materialize even in the early reactive stages of implementation. This continues as organizations evolve to incorporate all three phases—reactive, proactive, and predictive—into their processes.

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