What’s in Your Toolbox?

Knowing what a safety management system (SMS) is does not equate to implementing one. It is an endeavor that takes time, effort, and money. However, it produces a return on investment that can be measured directly and indirectly. These measures of success...


Knowing what a safety management system (SMS) is does not equate to implementing one. It is an endeavor that takes time, effort, and money. However, it produces a return on investment that can be measured directly and indirectly. These measures of success of the SMS will be discussed later. First we need to know what needs to be considered for a successful implementation.

There is no “one-size-fits-all.” Each organization has its own vision, culture, customers, financial constraints, etc., which will influence the way in which they go about developing and implementing the four required mainstays of the SMS. These four “pillars,” as noted in the FAA Advisory Circular No. 120-92A are: safety policy, safety risk management, safety assurance, and safety promotion.

The FAA will eventually be providing mandated SMS guidelines for different sections of the industry once having a SMS becomes a rule.

Structure of the toolbox

The most effective way to approach the implementation of a SMS is through a phased approach. A phased approach allows the operator to plan, develop, prepare their employees, implement, and conduct appropriate evaluation of the SMS in practical consecutive steps. It also allows for any required adjustments to be made with the minimal possible impact upon resources.

The phases of implementing a SMS need to be well documented and clearly understood by those who will be implementing them. Even if you are not responsible for the direct implementation of the specific SMS phase, you should be aware of what the implementation process encompasses to ensure you know your part in the process. To better understand the “tools” or activities and steps involved in the different phases of the implementation of a SMS, a phase guide follows.

Phase 1

1. Identification of the following:

a. The accountable executive

b. The person (or possibly group) responsible for implementing the SMS

c. Manager’s safety accountabilities; what managers are responsible for

2. Describe and document the system.

a. SMS components — general and/or specific to divisions

b. Ensure employees are aware of these descriptions

3. Conduct a gap analysis.

a. Obtain an organizational baseline. Include a safety culture assessment

b. Determine how the organization will measure the success of the SMS

4. Develop an SMS implementation plan.

a. Document how is it to be rolled out and the accountable person(s)

b. Develop a realistic timeframe for the overall rollout plan

c. Consider the human resource needs and financial implications of each phase

5. Develop documentation relevant to the company’s safety policies and objectives.

a. What currently exists and what is still needed (e.g., discipline policy, definition of terms, investigation policy, etc.)?

6. Develop and establish ongoing means for safety communication.

NOTE: This step is often overlooked or underestimated and the complete SMS can suffer due to poorly developed — or nonexistent — communication channels.

7. Determine and formalize divisional interfaces to share safety information and learn from experiences.

8. Determine how all the SMS data is to be collected and dealt with.

9. Commence development of safety performance indicators and performance targets. Determine how the SMS will be evaluated, both in terms of process evaluation as well as outcome evaluation.

a. The process of implementation should be continuously evaluated to ensure it is being implemented as planned.

b. Outcome evaluation is the customary evaluation of a program — is it reaching the targets or goals we wanted it to?

Phase 2

1. Implementation of reactive risk management processes.

a. Document (and follow) event investigation processes conducted by formally trained personnel

2. Deliver training relevant to reactive risk management processes.

a. Make all personnel aware of the processes, their own responsibilities, and how these reactive processes work together

3. Document all aspects relevant to reactive risk management tools for trend analysis.

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