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What is a Safety Management System (SMS)?

Updated: May 23, 2023

More and more aviation companies understand the importance of implementing a Safety Management System, but what is it and what does it entail?

What is a SMS?

A safety management system (SMS) is a series of defined, organization wide processes that provide for effective risk based decision making, related to your daily business.

What does SMS focus on?

SMS focus on maximizing opportunities to continuously improve the overall safety of the aviation system.

What are the key processes of an SMS?

HAZARD IDENTIFICATION - A method for identifying hazards related to your organization.

OCCURENCE REPORTING - A standard approach for assessing risks and for applying risk controls.

RISK MANAGEMENT - A standard approach for assessing risks and for applying risk controls.

PERFORMANCE MEASUREMENT - Management tools for analyzing whether the organization's safety goals are being achieved.

QUALITY/SAFETY ASSURANCE - Processes based on quality management principles that support continuous improvement of the organization's safety performance.

What are the roles and responsibilities within the SMS?

  • The senior manager or accountable executive is accountable for establishing the SMS and allocating resources to support and maintain an effective SMS.

  • Management is responsible for implementing, maintaining and adhering to SMS processes on their area.

  • Employees are responsible for identifying hazards and reporting them.

How will SMS benefit my organization?

  • Provides for more informed decision making.

  • Improved safety by reducing risk of accidents.

  • Provides for better resource allocation that will result in increased efficiencies and reduced costs.

  • Strengthens corporate culture,

  • Demonstrates corporate due-diligence

What key qualities are evident in organizations with an effective SMS?

  • A top-down commitment from management and personal commitment from all employees to achieve safety performance goals.

  • A clear roadmap of what the SMS is and what it is supposed to accomplish.

  • An established practice of open communication throughout the organization that is comprehensive and transparent, and where necessary, non-punitive.

  • An organizational culture that continuously strives to improve.

What SMS is not.

  • Self-regulation/de-regulation.

  • A stand alone department

  • A substitute for oversight

  • An undue burden

What SMS does:

  • Builds on existing processes

  • Integrates with other management systems by tailoring a flexible regulatory framework to your organization

  • Demonstrates good business practice

What's the difference between SMS and a Flight Safety Program?

A safety management system is primarily proactive/predictive. It considers hazards and risks that impact the whole organization, as well as risk controls. A flight safety program is primarily reactive and typically focuses on only one part of the system - the airline operation.

What's the difference between SMS and Quality Management Systems (QMS)

  • SMS focuses on the safety aspects of the organization.

  • QMS focuses on the service and products of the organization.

  • While OMS focuses on conformity, SMS focuses on hazards. Both non-conformities and hazards can impact safety.

Both systems enhance safety and are essential and complimentary management tools. You cannot have an effective SMS without applying QMS principles.

All together a SAFETY MANAGEMENT SYSTEM (SMS) is the best thing you can do in your aviation company.

If you would like to know how to implement a SMS system into your company, have a look at our FREE SAFETY MANAGEMENT COURSE here.


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