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MTX - My Thoughts eXactly - Pillars of SMS

At the very core of every aviation organization there should be a system in place to manage and mitigate risks, whether the risks exist within the product or in the manufacturing facility. The international aviation community, guided by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the standards set forth in Annex 19, "Safety Management", have established a system to provide guidance for aviation organizations worldwide.

A Safety Management System (SMS) is a systematic approach to managing and mitigating risks within any enterprise through organizational culture, policies, procedures and processes. The system is designed around the four pillars of safety which address the necessary areas that can impact and drive safety into the organization and any products that the organization produces. These four areas include the following: (a). Safety Policy, (b). Safety Risk Management (SRM), (c). Safety Assurance (SA) and (d). Safety Promotion.

A Safety Policy is the key to establishing a foundational safety culture within an organization which will work to proactively drive the safety mindset to all employees enterprise wide. From the viewpoint of aviation authority, Safety policy is situated on the first place, implying that SMS is beginning with policies that convey to all staff members the top management’s emphasis on safety (Hsu, Li, & Chen, 2010). At this level the importance of safety can be emphasized to all levels of the enterprise and guide employees as they perform their every day tasks. This type of management requires upper level management to engage employees at all levels and also requires upper level management’s commitment to the policy. Proactive involvement on the behalf of management by showcasing their commitment to and also by providing resources to implement safety programs will ensure that the safety policy becomes a part of the corporate culture.

Another pilar of the SMS is Safety Risk Management which entails seeking out risks within the enterprise and developing controls to manage, mitigate or eliminate the risks identified. Having employees actively finding safety hazards ensures that these risks will not be a threat to the organization and its workers. This is one of the most proactive and essential parts of the SMS, as it does not rely on a risk revealing itself which may be detrimental to the safety of employees. A first glimpse of safety management systems appears when risk management is applied to loss control and safety defenses are developed to prevent accidents (Li & Guldenmund, 2018). This area of the SMS emphasis the practical aspect of the SMS that works to prevent accidents.

Safety Assurances add another dimension to the SMS as it is a way to measure the effectiveness of the risk mitigation processes and helps in the identification of additional hazards. Statistical data developed from historical accident or near miss reports can be utilized to track the progress of risk procedures that address these incidents and also identify gaps in the procedures. Having a work group actively gather, analyze and track this data can be used to identify new risks and also be used to show upper management the effectiveness of policy implementation to support the SMS. The aim of analyzing accidents or injuries is to take lessons from the past so as to achieve state-of-the-art safety management, which explains the relationship between those models and safety management (Li & Guldenmund, 2018). Analyzing models and historical reports and determining areas for the implementation of additional safety controls showcases the importance of the SMS in continuous improvement.

Safety Promotion is another proactive pillar of the SMS as it is used to teach lessons learned from the other areas of the SMS. This pillar of the SMS disseminates critical information to the enterprise which is useful for training and continuously improving the safety culture through transparency and education. Training and learning systems are therefore important for the quality of SMSs as they improve the organization’s and its workers’ capability regarding safety (Li & Guldenmund, 2018).

Employee safety and risk identification and mitigation are at the heart of the SMS and by utilizing the 4 pillars of the SMS an organization can manage to operate within a safer environment that proactively seeks to establish an enterprise wide safety culture.


Hsu, Y.-L., Li, W.-C., & Chen, K.-W. (2010). Structuring critical success factors of airline safety management system using a hybrid model. Transportation Research Part E: Logistics and Transportation Review, 222-235.

Li, Y., & Guldenmund, F. W. (2018). Safety management systems: A broad overview of the literature. Safety Science, 94-123.

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