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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety management system (SMS) introduced an evolutionary process in system safety and safety management to aviation industry organizations both internal and external to the FAA. It is a structured process compelling organizations to treat safety management with the same priority as other core business practices.

The FAA’s role in accident prevention led to the development of this SMS to provide:

  • Safety risk management decision making in a structured manner
  • Method to demonstrate safety management capabilities prior to system failures
  • Processes for safety assurance to control and mitigate risk while increasing confidence
  • Ability to effectively share information and knowledge between the organizations and the FAA
  • Framework to promote safety and support the development of a solid safety culture

The FAA SMS has 4 elements: Safety Policy, Safety Risk Management, Safety Assurance, and Safety Promotion.

Safety Policy

Focuses on establishing senior management’s commitment to safety and its continual improvement. It also defines methods, processes, and the organizational structure needed to achieve the organization’s safety goals. Key components of Safety Policy include:

  • Establishing management commitment to safety management excellence
  • Setting clear safety objectives and goals along with commitment to meet said goals, along with defining the methods, processes, and organizational structure
  • Creating transparency in management of safety
  • Documenting policies and processes in full, built upon the processes and procedures already existing within the organization
  • Developing and implementing an employee reporting and resolution system
  • Establishing accountability of management and employees
  • Facilitating cross-organizational communication and cooperation.

Safety Risk Management

Allows the organization to determine the need for and efficacy of new and revised risk controls following an assessment of acceptable risks. The formal process should include such details as system description; hazard identification; and risk assessment, analysis, and control/mitigation. Organizations employing the FAA SMS may embed the safety risk management process in other organizational execution processes.

Safety Assurance

Evaluates the continual effectiveness of established and implemented risk control and mitigation activities and strategies, while also supporting the identification of new hazards. It ensures organizational outputs meet or exceed the required levels of safety.

Safety Assurance also ensures organizations comply with all established FAA orders, standards, policies, and directives and FAA SMS requirements through information acquisition activities such as audits, evaluations, and employee reporting. This information acquisition also provides insight into additional ways to improve safety and further reduce risk, while existing safety assurance functions continue to evaluate and improve the organizations’ products and services.

Safety Promotion

Covers training, communication, and related organizational actions to create and publicize a positive safety culture across all levels of the workforce. Required activities include such activities as: providing SMS training, advocating a positive safety culture, communicating safety system awareness, matching required competencies against system requirements, sharing safety lessons learned across the organization, and ensuring everyone has and knows their role in promoting and practicing safety.