Building an SMS

Airplanes on airshowConsider a motor car in a garage.  When it is not being driven, it is nothing more than a collection of inanimate objects made from a variety of material.  It is not until the ignition is turned, and the vehicle is being driven, does it become a system.  It may be the same vehicle as many others on the road, but the relationship between driver and vehicle is unique because no two people are the same.

The same can be said of a safety management system.  In the beginning it is a collection of like minded people and an owners manual.  Not until people start contributing to the processes, policy and procedures described in the manual does it start to become a system.

In the same way a car owner learns the nuances of the system that is a vehicle, develops a unique style of driving it, and comes to understand how to use it most efficiently, so to does the SMS evolve into a unique part of an organisation.  When used correctly, it will become tailored to meet the size and complexity of the organisation it services.

Cogs‘A system as a whole is more than the sum of its parts.’

Karl Ludwick von Bertalanffy

One drive source can turn all eight of these cogs.  Any turning cog will have resultant movement on the others. If they are separated, did not work together as a system, acted independently in turning, they have no impact on the others. it would take eight drive sources to turn them all. It would use much more energy, be less efficient and less effective.

When they work as a system they are strong, stable and mutually dependent.

Compliance and entry control

When CASA assess a new SMS, the requirement is for for Entry Control.  That is – Present and suitable.

  • Present = Is there a process/procedure/document/policy that supports each element of SMS
  • Suitable = Is that process/procedure/document/policy appropriate for the organisation. It may be to too complex, it may be too simple. This where the organisation needs to consider what is actually required for its own unique operations, and not simply copy a manual from elsewhere.

Examples of what constitutes Present and Suitable might be;

  • Has the organisation addressed all elements of the SMS framework in the SMS manual
  • Are all required persons in place to manage safety management and are they appropriately trained
  • Does the organisation appear to have a Safety Culture
  • Is there evidence of commitment, training and communication to all staff

The SMS is not mature yet, it hasn’t evolved into what works for that organisation. For example;

  • There has not been enough (if any) SAG/SRC meetings to raise safety actions or change procedures
  • The hazards, risks and management of them is still gathering data
  • There has not been enough staff safety surveys to gain insight into the safety culture
  • Re-currency training has not yet been conducted
  • The cycle of continuous improvement is not yet complete
  • And so on…

So the compliance assessment may not investigate all workings of the SMS. However it is the post implementation review that really determines if the SMS is actually Operational and Effective.

Evidence of this might include;

  • Has the organisation conducted its own internal audit and reviews of the SMS effectiveness
  • What evidence is there of effective management of change
  • Is data being gathered and used to help identify potential hazards
  • Is the safety culture mature and resilient
  • Are documents being amended and controlled
  • What actions and decisions are coming out of the safety meetings
  • Are new hazards and risks being added and managed
  • Have there been training and communication events on a regular basis
  • What evidence is there of safety promotion
  • How many, and what are the quality of hazard reports
  • Does the process of investigation of hazard reports ‘close the loop’ back to the reporter

CASA will aim to conduct post implementation surveillance with 18 months of entry control. What is important is that the SMS is becoming unique to that organisation, and that the benefits are being realised in term of safety and therefore efficiency. It is not just a manual sitting on a shelf.

Your SMS is for your company – not for the regulator


Present and Suitable does not give you return on investment, but Operational and Effective will.

Building a Safety Management System starts with a management decision; ‘We will have a Safety Management System.’ It never really finishes, but it could be said to be in a steady state when the entire workforce understands its importance, recognises its benefits, and willingly contribute to the operational effectiveness of it.

Process vs Procedure

A process is a set of interrelated or interacting activities which transforms inputs into outputs
A procedure is specified way to carry out an activity or a process

This set of definitions helped me get an understanding that:

• A process is about what we do


• A procedure is about how we do something


SMS is a System – it only works together