SMS in context

SMS in aviation has been evolving since the early 1990s when it was recognised that technological, human and organisational factors all had a part to play in creating an inherently safe work environment. Integration of these components is the key to success.

Consider the time when someone is learning to drive a motorcar – perhaps a son or daughter.

We all know it can be a potentially dangerous time.  The media is often filled with bad news stories regarding motor vehicle accidents. Experienced drivers have seen enough, perhaps even had enough close calls (or even accidents of their own) to know the potential dangers on the road, and generally speaking, are happy to share their experiences with less experienced drivers.

New drivers just want to get their licence and get mobile. So there is a system, both formal and informal, to protect them.

A formal process could include:

  • a recognition of hazards
  • treatment of risks
  • further training for new situations and continual communication in a bid to reduce the possibility of a negative occurrence.

This is safety management for new drivers.

Consider some significant case studies below.

The Piper Alpha Disaster

The Piper Alpha platform accounted for nearly 10 percent of North sea oil and gas production. On 05 July 1988 an explosion, and subsequent oil and gas fire, resulted in the complete loss of the platform and the death of 167 men.

The disaster was the worst offshore oil disaster in terms of lives lost and industry impact, and resulted in sweeping changes to the off-shore oil and gas industry  …read more

The Herald of Free Enterprise

The Herald of Free Enterprise was a 13000 ton Roll-On Roll-Off car and passenger ferry operating between England and Belguim.

This type of operation was highly competitive and on the night of 06 March 1987 the ship and crew were under significant time pressure to depart with a maximum payload.

The ship capsized shortly after leaving port….read more

The Collapse of Enron

The bankruptcy of American energy company Enron in 2001 was one of the most significant financial collapses in history.

The company fell from being one of the the seventh largest in the US (Fortune 500) in to a spectacular collapse in the space of several months.

Although not a disaster in physical terms, the similarities with SMS are an interesting comparison…read more

When considering case studies of disasters, the galling aspect is they should never have happened.  All were preventable, even predictable, but it was the failure of multiple defences that allowed them to occur.

SMS seeks to create a predictive, generative culture that has the ability to identify technological, human or systemic weaknesses that could lead to disaster before they become a reality.  Of course, no system is fail-safe. But it is possible to have such a robust safety culture, through SMS, that the odds are reduced to the minimum possible.

Complex systems should not fail due to a single factor. The single point of failure is the situation all complex organisations seek to avoid.  SMS provides the means to store the collective corporate knowledge built through time and experience, and the processes to pass that knowledge on to the next generation of workforce.

ABC Four Corners program on Pelair flight ditching at Norfolk island