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The Purpose of Safety Management Systems

Can you describe the purpose of a flight operation’s Safety Management System (SMS)?

The Purpose of Safety Management Systems

Do you think you could describe the purpose of an organization’s Safety Management System (SMS)?


It is a common human trait that we sometimes get so caught up in the details of trying to do something that we forget why we are doing it in the first place.  It is also common to overlook the importance of things we don’t fully understand the purpose of.    Safety Management Systems can, at times fall into this category.  Are you just starting to focus on a SMS in your aviation operation? Maybe you need more information about what a safety management system is, or what the real purpose behind your safety management system is.  Does your flight operation have a basic SMS, but you are not sure why you should invest the time and money into its success? This post is for you.


As you read below, the purpose of a safety management system within the scope of aviation operations will be clarified.  Let’s start by making sure we understand what a SMS actually is.


What is a Safety Management System?


  1. A best practice way of doing business – tailored to your unique organization…
  2. Where you do specific activities to align with the ICAO / FAA Four Components and its 12 Elements
  3. And where your organization strives to build and maintain an effective and “just” safety culture


It is important to recognize that a  Safety Management System is not generic safety management, but rather it is a very specific framework.

So… what is the purpose of a Safety Management System?


I can think of some general purposes…


  1. Because we still hurt people and bend metal in aviation and we want to stop doing that.
  2. Because aviation safety best practices have been built on much larger foundations (in time and scope) than just what your organization is doing. Just because my organization hasn’t had a major accident does not mean that my organization is utilizing best practices.
  3. Because we will never eliminate human error – so we need to evolve to a total organizational system that inherently accounts for human error and sets people up to succeed.
  4. Because we don’t expect regulatory authorities to be able to make specific laws/regulations to prevent an accident within the unique aspects of any one organization’s facilities, equipment, processes, and people. Every organization is different so one size does not fit all.
  5. Now let’s throw altruism out the window…  Because your organization wants to attract customers and make money – and many customers require the aviation operators they hire to have an SMS. In other words, “we are required to have an SMS”.



What does the FAA say is the purpose of a Safety Management System?


By recognizing the individual organization’s role in accident prevention, an SMS provides:


  1. A structured means of safety risk management decision making
  2. A means of demonstrating safety management capability before system failures occur
  3. Increased confidence in risk controls though structured safety assurance processes
  4. An effective interface for knowledge sharing between regulator and certificate holder
  5. safety promotion framework to support a sound safety culture”

If your organization needs assistance in fulfilling the activities of their SMS, Take a look at PRISM’s Safety Management System Software.  Our software has been designed to help you manage your SMS and comes with the support of our safety experts.  We stay by your side for all your SMS needs, from initial implementation to the full development of your successful safety management system.


An Operational Heath Check might be just what your operation is looking for.  Operational Health Checks do just that, they check the health of your SMS.  They point out areas that can be updated and add suggestions for changes that will keep you in compliance with FAA regulations.  With an Operational Health Check your Safety Management System will be in top shape.


We offer a 3 day, interactive SMS Training course that will fully prepare you to implement an effective safety management system in your operation.  Click the link below to find out more about the course and register for the time that is right for you.

Written  By:

Susan Cadwallader MS, MBA, PMP

Vice President, Helicopter and Unmanned Aviation Services at PRISM, LLC

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