What Comes After Human Factors?

Developing a safety culture and measuring the benefits

After 12 years of training, we can take what we have learned in human factors for aircraft maintenance technicians and managers workshops and put the information to use throughout the organization. To formalize and implement this information in our organization, we need to understand safety management systems (SMS). An SMS provides the organizational framework to support a sound safety culture. It is essentially a quality management appacroach to controlling risk. Development and implementation of an SMS program provides management a structured set of tools to meet their legal responsibilities while managing safety within their organization. All Canadian airlines have been operating with an SMS program since 2005. Approved maintenance organizations and other air carriers have until December 2007 to implement SMS programs.

The FAA has released AC 120-92 "Introduction to Safety Management Systems for Air Operators". This is a voluntary program, but the FAA encourages each aviation service to comply.

What Is a Safety Management System?

A safety management system (SMS) is an integrated set of management and work practices, beliefs, and procedures for monitoring, supporting, and improving the quality of safety aspects and human performance in an organization. SMS assists organizations in recognizing the potential for errors, and establishes robust defenses to prevent errors from causing injuries or accidents. Safety management systems focus on organizational safety rather than the conventional employee safety and health (ES&H) workplace concerns.

An effective SMS helps organizations become proactive in their approach to safety by actively identifying risks and hazards, and supporting the implementation of appropriate solutions. A key aspect of this new view of safety is the recognition of human limitations. History tells us that all human activity is prone to error. People have inherent capabilities and limitations for information processing, memory, and workload. Safety systems must recognize and account for these human characteristics.

A safety management system becomes part of the organizational and safety culture; the way people do their jobs and think about safety. Every employee in every department contributes to the safety awareness of the organization. A successful safety management system provides a process for managing risk and reducing human error. A strong companywide commitment is the key to successful safety management. It is only through the collective efforts of all members that an organization will successfully prevent human error and manage safety programs effectively. SMS provide the mechanisms for organizations to become more effective and efficient thereby have a positive financial impact on corporate profitability.

Benefits of Implementing SMS

Traditionally, safety has been, in many cases, all about avoiding costs. Many organizations have been bankrupted by the cost of a major accident. This makes a strong case for safety, but cost of occurrence/major accidents is only part of the story. Research shows that safety and efficiency are positively linked. Taken a step further, organizations with a strong safety culture can be profitable organizations. Recent operators who have integrated SMS into their business models report that the added emphasis on process management and continuous improvement benefits them financially as well.

A safety management system will provide an organization with the capacity to anticipate and address safety issues before they lead to an incident or accident. A safety management system also provides management with the ability to deal effectively with accidents and near misses so that valuable lessons are applied to improve safety and efficiency.

A Safety Culture

Safety is no longer the responsibility of just the dedicated safety professionals who in the past led the charge for safety improvements. By clearly placing responsibility for safety performance in the hands of all of the operating divisions, safety becomes everyone's business. Only then is it possible to create a true safety culture in an organization.

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