Changing the Safety Mindset

NATA’s SMS program takes the lead in creating a culture of safety


Critical to a program’s success, says Lawton, is for a high-ranking manager to be accountable for the company’s SMS. “The company safety culture has to come from the top down. It’s not a bottom up kind of effort; if the upper management of a company doesn’t support it then it won’t work well at all.”

Groundside, airside

There is both a groundside and airside operations SMS. NATA had been working on the groundside SMS for almost a year, before beginning work on the airside. The association worked with airport consulting firm SH&E to create the original SMS.

“The insurance companies were very instrumental in saying that this is a program long overdue,” explains Koranda. “They recognized NATA’s success in training and thought to develop this further.”

Development of the initial SMS was sponsored by five oil companies and five insurance companies. “[The sponsors] were willing to step up to the plate for one year and entertain up to three years, and they’ve been true to their word. They have sponsored the first three years and [now] we’re going to try on go it on our own,” Koranda says.

Reducing exposure

According to NATA’s Lawton, depending on the profit margin of the company, the annual cost of events (damage to aircraft) is not a static number based on the amount directly associated with the event’s repair. Thus, implementing an SMS program can have a significant financial impact on a company.

For example, he says, if a company’s annual incident costs are, say, $100,000, a company may need to make as much as $2 million the following year to recoup those losses.

“Everyone thinks it’s a one to one cost,” Lawton says. “What does that really mean in terms of the amount of business you lost and what did you really lose over and above that $100,000? It’s an exponential factor.

“If you look at the dollars and cents of it, the money you’re going to spend on implementing the SMS and having a strong safety program is going to save you more than the cost of a repair bill,” Lawton says. “Any little incident that can be prevented by having a proactive safety program in risk management is going to go directly to the bottom line.” Reducing losses can also help reduce insurance premiums, he says.

Audit checklists

NATA’s SMS program dedicates a section to OSHA audit checklists specifically for areas applicable to the industry. The checklists range from respiratory protection to personal protective equipment, and offer a description of compliant or acceptable working conditions.

The process leads safety managers to scrutinize possible areas for improvement — those which may have been neglected or overlooked in the past.
It was during the OSHA audit process that one participant, Dawn Letellier, director of safety and security with Encore FBO [the former Business Aviation Services], recognized an area requiring improvement.

“The first time that I was conducting my own location’s audit based on that checklist, we got to the [hearing protection] part and realized that we had never done this before. It was clear that it was something that we needed to initiate,” Letellier says. “I worked with our insurance company and had them come and do the decibel sampling to see if the noise levels were over the OSHA guidelines, and we found one area [maintenance] of our company was affected.”

Participant reactions

Letellier of Encore, who is based in Sioux Falls, SD was the first user of the Safety 1st SMS, beginning in April 2005. She says she completed instituting the program over a nine-month period.

“[The SMS] really helps your company define its whole philosophy on safety and security,” Letellier says. “One of the benefits that I saw when I first started this was in going out and talking to employees, conducting job hazard analyses, and working with the front line. The employees really appreciate the company focusing on safety; you get more buy-in.”

According to Letellier, in the first full year that the company had the SMS program in place, the FBO had zero deductible claims, its rate for employee injuries improved, and the company saw a 36-percent decrease in ‘hangar rash’ incidents.

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