I was contacted some time ago from a small Australian helicopter operator who had won a contract for survey work. The owner explained to me in scant detail that he needed a Safety Management System (SMS) because it was a contractual requirement and the system was to be audited before the commencement of any work by.

Although the owner had contacted me to assist him, his impression was that I could sell him an SMS manual and everything else would take care of itself.

I explained that there was no generic SMS manual and that although the elements were standard, it had to be customized to suit the size of the business and the nature of the operations. To do this effectively, I would need his input. At this point, I got the joke about a consultant borrowing the clients watch to tell him the time! I explained that an SMS was an integral business system and that implementing the system was not simply buying a manual. Needless to say, I wasted my time and did not get that job!

After contemplating this scenario, I realised three important things:

Some people attempt to implement an SMS for the wrong reasons. – Simply going through the motions because a client wants the operator to have a safety system is not enough reason.
The lack of knowledge by the key personnel often dooms a project to fail. -How can management be properly committed to the SMS if they do not understand it?
Although a manual is important, it is not a system. – Other important elements are required. Some of these elements may already be in place but in my experience not all, and a gap analysis is required to identify the missing elements.
So when someone contacts me now and asks me for help to implement or improve an SMS, I try to discover two things, what is their motivation and what level of knowledge do they have about an effective safety system. From my experience, negative motivation always ends in a flop and a lack of contextual knowledge is often the root cause of a less than fully effective SMS.

TechSafe Aviation provides SMS training, assists with system development and implementation, and reviews and audits safety management systems. Please contact me on the email below for more information.

Rob Collins
TechSafe Aviation