Getting Your Arms Around SMS

To increase the success rate of your SMS I recommend taking simple small bites to whittle away at a larger task.

More than once, I have heard the objection SMS just costs so much. SMS cost is truly that and nothing more if the organization simply copies someone else’s manuals and additionally fails to conduct SMS training. An SMS is put into place, but only in a digital file or a hard copy manual gathering dust on the shelf, in addition to possibly not being applicable to the organization as it was someone else’s creation for that organization. No one participates, and there is no feedback from management to employees or from employees to management. The whole idea of SMS is to become proactive in reducing the costs of accidents, incidents, and injuries. This approach defeats the whole purpose; it then becomes true that the SMS really did not improve anything; it just adds another layer of obligation.

In fact, when the SMS is created as it should be, through unilateral brainstorming, input and feedback from all departments in the organization in conjunction with one another, the SMS will more than pay for itself by actually reducing and eliminating accidents, incidents, and injuries which without the SMS in place may have occurred. No one can count the accidents that don’t happen; so here is the real question; how much are you willing to allot in your budget for an accident or injury?

Where exactly is the line item cost in your budget for one of your employees losing their eyesight or limb, or possibly an aircraft crash? Until you realize the risk and the cost associated with that risk, you cannot “realize” the price of SMS.

Another reason for what would seem to be a well-organized and effective SMS to fail is not having an administrative policy in place that defines clear expectations and goals. This combined with monitoring, measurement, and continuous improvement is how the organization can determine if the SMS is successful.

I have heard it said “if we do an SMS we are going to get all these bad reports.” Yes! Isn’t it better to identify and know about near misses before they become actual accidents? This is evidence that the SMS procedures are working!

An organization that is inundated with hazard reports certainly should be drilling down to the root causes of the issues. When employees have had the chance to say “Wow, that was close,” the organization is ripe for an accident. The reporting of near misses within the SMS framework should be viewed as opportunities to mitigate or eliminate the risks associated with the near misses, resulting in an enhanced safety culture and environment and improved profitability.

To increase the success rate of your SMS I recommend taking simple small bites to whittle away at a larger task. Starting with the simple steps and perspectives below may help to get your arms around the looming monster that disguises itself as SMS.

  • Stay engaged throughout the organization from the very top position in the organization to the new hire employee.
  • Determine what processes and procedures (elements of SMS) you have and what you need.
  • Document those procedures.
  • Link the processes and procedures together by communicating.
  • Use reporting to identify and mitigate risks.
  • Monitor, measure, and improve your SMS continually.
  • View hazard reports as opportunities to enhance and improve safety.


DeborahAnn Cavalcante leads Diversified Aviation Consulting (DAC) and has firsthand experience in air carrier operations, private charter aircraft, general aviation operations, military/civilian interface, FBO management, maintenance repair station training, safety training, human factors training, and customer service training. For more information on DAC visit

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