Expanding SMS Beyond Aviation

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The introduction of System Safety-based principles to air carrier operations and surveillance in the latter half of the 1990s has led to the safest decade in U.S. aviation history. Not resting on these laurels, aviation regulators and air carriers have now extended System Safety concepts even further via the promotion and implementation of comprehensive Safety Management Systems (SMS) that serve to proactively identify hazards, mitigate risks and promote a positive safety culture.

Part 121 air carriers were the first to embrace SMS in the U.S., but now Part 135 and even Part 91 international operators are getting on the SMS bandwagon. Not stopping there, the FAA has also introduced an Advisory Circular on SMS for Part 139 airports, and is providing funding for SMS pilot programs at several U.S. airports.

It is encouraging to see SMS expanding within aviation to beyond just Part 121 air carriers and into other types of air operators and airports, but these represent only the beginning of new applications for Safety Management Systems.

In particular, the concepts of SMS are hugely applicable to many other fields beyond just aviation, including other modes of transportation (e.g., Washington D.C.’s troubled Metrorail transit system), health care providers (with a staggering number of deaths caused by avoidable medical errors) and the food and mining industries, among others. Indeed, the recent mine tragedy in West Virginia provides a stark example of how the proactive introduction of an SMS could have potentially saved lives.

While JDA was founded and is staffed by aviation-centric safety leaders, we fully recognize how our work within the aviation safety community can benefit other industries as well, and we are actively working to extend the aviation successes of System Safety and Safety Management Systems into these other areas of need. If we are successful in getting others to listen, understand, and act upon the SMS message, the end result will be immensely satisfying – fewer patients dying from medical errors, fewer passengers and track workers dying from rail accidents, fewer miners dying, and fewer deaths from avoidable food borne pathogens. The stakes could not be higher.

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