A Technician's SMS

Dec. 16, 2013
A technician’s safety management system is constantly increasing knowledge of aviation design expectations so each step in a maintenance process can be evaluated appropriately

What does SMS stand for in the mind of an individual technician? How does an individual technician manage safety? If safety is a minimum requirement, what more is there to manage?

These rhetorical questions are barriers to improving methods, practices, and safety. When SMS is used to bludgeon a technician or add to that person’s burden, the system becomes a joke and something to avoid rather than a method for evaluating risk and making improvements. When an individual technician feels superfluous to improving practices dictated by the government and/or passed down by management, safety doesn’t improve; it suffers. If safety is a given to an aviation technician, managing separate aspects of the system becomes problematic.

Increase design knowledge

A technician’s safety management system is constantly increasing knowledge of aviation design expectations so each step in a maintenance process can be evaluated appropriately. The study titled “Strategies to Reduce Aviation Employees’ Procedural Non-Compliance” explores the reasons for intentional noncompliance with procedures. The study’s data validated Wilde’s Risk Homeostasis Theory “… that employees are not making informed assessments regarding the actual level of risks.” In other words, if you don’t know the safety impact, you are more likely to purposely skip or reorganize steps or change methods. A technician’s work must return the article to at least its original condition; it is essential to understand the basic design rules before messing around with maintenance requirements.

Gain experience

Experience may be knowledge, but you can have one year of experience repeated 30 times or you can have 30 years of experience. No maintenance manual will contain everything you need to accomplish every task. Manuals may be written by persons who have never performed the particular actions or by persons too experienced with the tasks. No manual is going to anticipate all the problems or failure conditions of an article. The aviation maintenance technician, however, must gain experience on the conditions created by differing operations of an aircraft, engine, propeller, or component. Make sure those experiences add to knowledge and enhance aviation safety.

Gather/analyze data

Gather engineering and operational data; obtain fellow maintenance provider thoughts; add those tidbits to your knowledge of the certification basis. Validate that data by testing the potential solution and writing an objective report on the results. After validating the solution, it may take an engineer to approve the data. The approval will be based upon a showing of compliance with the design requirements — that is, did the action return the article to the condition contemplated (required) by the airworthiness standard? Experience is now knowledge and can be used to enhance maintenance procedures, develop training for fellow technicians, and increase the level of safety for you, your employer or customer, and the entire industry.

Managing safety is important and an aviation maintenance technician is the most important link in the safety chain. No one can fly without your work and approval for return to service. If you are a mechanic with inspection authorization, what you do or do not do could cause physical and/or financial harm — managing those risks are essential to your livelihood, your life, and to safety.

Sarah MacLeod is executive director of the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA), an organization she helped found more than 25 years ago. She is a managing member at the law firm of Obadal, Filler, MacLeod & Klein, P.L.C. and is engaged in the legal representation of foreign and domestic air carriers, aircraft maintenance and alteration facilities, distributors, pilots, and other individuals and companies in federal court and before federal administrative bodies. For more information visit www.arsa.org.

About the Author

Sarah MacLeod | Executive Director

Sarah MacLeod is managing member of Obadal, Filler, MacLeod, & Klein, P.L.C. and a founder and executive director of the Aeronautical Repair Station Association. She has advocated for individuals and companies on international aviation safety law, policy and compliance issues for 30 years.