What is a Safety Management System (SMS) in the USA?

safety management system is a management system developed to handle safety elements in the workplace. It includes policy, objectives, plans, procedures, organisation, responsibilities and other measures. The SMS is utilised in industries that manage significant safety risks, including air travel, petroleum, chemical, electricity generation and others.


A safety management system provides a methodical method to continuously recognise and keep an eye on risks and control risks while preserving assurance that these risk controls are efficient. SMS can be defined as:

… a professional approach to safety. It is an organized, specific and thorough process for handling safety dangers. As with all management systems, a safety management system attends to setting goal, planning, and measuring efficiency. A safety management system is woven into the material of an organisation. It becomes part of the culture, the method people do their tasks.

For the purposes of specifying safety management, safety can be specified as:

… the decrease of risk to a level that is as low as is reasonably practicable.

There are three imperatives for embracing a safety management system for a business– these are ethical, legal and financial.

There is an implied ethical commitment put on an employer to guarantee that work activities and the workplace to be safe, there are legislative requirements defined in almost every jurisdiction on how this is to be achieved and there is a considerable body of research which shows that efficient safety management (which is the reduction of risk in the work environment) can lower the financial exposure of an organisation by minimising direct and indirect expenses associated with mishap and incidents.

To attend to these 3 essential aspects, a reliable SMS should:

– Define how the organisation is established to manage risk.
– Identify office risk and carry out suitable controls.
– Implement reliable interactions across all levels of the organisation.
– Implement a procedure to identify and correct non-conformities.
– Implement a continuous improvement procedure.
– A safety management system can be produced to fit any company type and/or industry sector.

Basic safety-management components

International Labour Organisation SMS model
Considering that there are numerous designs to pick from to outline the fundamental components of a safety management system, the one chosen here is the international basic promoted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). In the ILO file, the safety management standard components are:

– Policy
– Organising
– Planning and implementation
– Evaluation
– Action for improvement

Although other safety management system designs utilise different terminology, the process and workflow for safety management systems are generally similar;

– Policy– Establish within policy statements what the requirements are for the organisation in regards to resources, defining management commitment and defining occupational safety and health (OSH) targets
Organising– How is the organisation structured, where are responsibilities and accountabilities defined, who reports to who and who is accountable for what.

– Planning and Implementation– What legislation and requirements use to our organisation, what OSH objectives are defined and how are these reviews, danger prevention and the assessment and management of risk.

– Evaluation– How is OSH efficiency determined and assessed, what are the procedures for the reporting of mishaps and occurrences and for the investigation of mishaps and what internal and external audit procedures remain in location to evaluate the system.
Action for Improvement– How are preventative and restorative actions handled and what processes remain in place to make sure the continual improvement process. There is a substantial amount of detail within each of these sections and these should be analysed in detail from the ILO-OSH Guidelines document.

Regulatory viewpoint


A safety management system is planned to function as a structure to allow an organisation, as a minimum, to meet its legal responsibilities under occupational safety and health law. The structure of a safety management system is generally speaking, not of itself a legal requirement however it is an incredibly efficient tool to arrange the myriad aspects of occupational safety and health (OSH) that can exist within an organisation, frequently to satisfy standards which go beyond the minimum legal requirement.

A safety management system is only as good as its implementation– reliable safety management suggests that organisations require to guarantee they are looking at all the dangers within the organisation as a single system, instead of having multiple, competing, ‘Safety Management Silos.’ If safety is not seen holistically, it can interfere with the prioritisation of improvements or perhaps result in safety issues being missed. For example, after an explosion in March 2005 at BP’s Texas City Refinery (BP) the investigation concluded that the company had put too much focus on individual safety therefore ignoring the safety of their procedures. The remedy to such silo thinking is the appropriate evaluation of all risks, an essential aspect of a reliable safety management system.


Adoption for industry sectors

There are a number of industry sectors worldwide which have actually recognised the benefits of effective safety management. The regulatory authorities for these markets have established safety management systems particular to their own markets and requirements, frequently supported by policy. Below are examples from various industry sectors from a variety of diverse around the world locations.

Civil air travel

The International Civil Aviation Organisation has suggested that all aviation authorities implement safety management system regulatory structures. ICAO has provided resources to assist with implementation, consisting of the ICAO Safety Management Manual. Unlike the conventional occupational safety focus of safety management system, the ICAO focus is to use SMS for managing air travel safety. Id.

The ICAO High-level Safety Conference 2010 suggestion 2/5 proposed the advancement of a new Annex (19) committed to Safety Management. The Annex was published in February 2013 and got in into force on November 14, 2013. The advantages recognised of this technique consisted of:

– Address safety dangers proactively;
– Manage and support tactical regulatory and infrastructure developments;
– Re-enforce the role played by the State in handling safety at the State level, in coordination with provider;
– Stress the idea of total safety efficiency in all domains.

The United States has actually introduced SMS for airports through an advisory circular and other assistance.

The United States revealed at the 2008 EASA/FAA/TC International Safety Conference that they would be establishing policies to execute safety management system for repair stations, air providers, and producers. The FAA formed a rule making committee to deal with the implementation (referred to as the SMS ARC). The SMS ARC reported its findings to the FAA on March 31, 2010. The Report identifies that much of the aspects of safety management system already exist in the U.S. policies, but that some elements do not yet exist. A draft of what the United States safety management system guideline may look like was proposed by one trade association that participated in the ARC. Currently, the FAA is supporting voluntary pilot tasks for safety management system.

The Federal Aviation Administration has actually also required that all FAA services and offices embrace a common Aviation Safety (AVS) Safety Management System (AVSSMS). This is what ICAO calls a State Safety Program (SSP).

The Federal Aviation Administration published a Notice of Proposed Rule making (NPRM) for the establishment of SMS for air carriers. That NPRM explains that it is meant to serve as the structure for rules that would later on be used to Part 135 operators, Part 145 repair stations and Part 21 manufacturers. Id. Several U.S. trade associations filed comments in action to the air provider NPRM, including the Aviation Suppliers Association (ASA) remarks in response to the SMS NPRM. and the Modification and Replacement Parts Association (MARPA) Among these remarks were arguments for developing separate safety management system regulations for other certificate holders, in order to make certain that SM remains a functional tool for advancing safety (rather than a uniform but ineffective documentation workout). In addition, the Federal Aviation Administration has also filed a NPRM for safety management system for airports, which would be different from the guidelines for safety management system for air carriers (consistent with the arguments of the trade associations).

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) started the process of carrying out Safety Management System (SMS) regulations by releasing Terms of Reference (TOR) on July 18, 2011. That was followed by a Notice of Proposed Amendment (NPA) released on January 21, 2013. The proposed EASA guideline would use to fix stations, but would have substantial supplementary results on other aviation industry sub-sectors.

Maritime industry

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is another organisation that has actually embraced SMS. All international passenger ships and oil tankers, chemical tankers, gas carriers, bulk providers and cargo ships of 500 gross heaps or more are required to have a Safety Management System. In the preamble to the International Safety Management (ISM) Code, the IMO states, “The foundation of good safety management is dedication from the top. In matters of safety and contamination prevention it is the commitment, proficiency, mindsets and inspiration of individuals at all levels that identifies the end result.”

Railway industry

Transport Canada’s Rail Safety Directorate included SMS into the rail industry in 2001. The Rail Safety Management System requirements are set out in the Railway Safety Management System Regulations. The objectives of the Rail Safety Management System Regulations are to ensure that safety is given management time and corporate resources and that it goes through performance measurement and tracking on par with business financial and production goals.

The impact of safety management system in the rail industry has not been favorable, as a 2006 Toronto Star review of Transportation Safety Board information suggested that rail mishaps were soaring. Critics have actually argued that this proof must prevent the adoption of SMS in the aviation sector. Transport Safety Board data show that the mishap rate in the rail industry has in fact differed around the average over that 10-year period. Given That the Toronto Star post was published, the mishap rate has actually reduced.

The Transportation Safety Board reported that “an overall of 1,143 rail accidents were reported to the TSB in 2008, a 14% decrease from the 2007 total of 1,323 and an 18% reduction from the 2003– 2007 average of 1,387” and also noted that, in 2008, rail incidents reported under the TSB necessary reporting requirements reached a 26-year low of 215.


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