By Dale Smith
The fact is there are very few industries that are as unforgiving of errors as aviation maintenance. Unfortunately for us, mistakes are just as much a part of the human condition as breathing. So how can mistakes be found and fixed before they become headlines?
Well, the one methodology that is catching on in the MRO industry is to implement a Safety Management System (SMS). While that seems simple enough, there’s really a lot to it – especially if you want to do it right.
First off you have to define what an SMS is. The typical definition for an SMS in aviation maintenance is a system of steps or processes that help identify problems or errors that happen while working on an aircraft. But, when you talk to the SMS experts, that definition only puts a small piece of the safety puzzle in place.
“Initially many organizations think that an SMS program is just about the technicians on the shop floor. It’s not. The important thing is that an safety management system is for everyone in the company,” Don Baldwin, president, Baldwin Safety & Compliance said. “Meaning that in the typical MRO setting you might have elements of the program that are for the technicians and others for the supervisors, parts people, line service technicians – even the front office people. To be successful, it has to look at every person in the company and what they do.”
“For example, say a secretary comes into the hangar and sees something that can be dangerous – a cable on the floor or something – everybody in the hangar is used to it being that way so they don’t even see it,” he said. “The problem is invisible to them. Outsiders will see that immediately and can question it. SMS gives them the tool to do that in the right way.”
Baldwin said that that having everyone in the company involved in identifying potential safety issues is critical to getting the information you need to make it all work. “Where we continually see difficulties and disconnects in companies is when the program is just dropped on a technician, or anyone for that matter, with no up front training or guidance,” he said. “They’re just handed the forms and told to fill them out if they see any issues.”
“Providing the right training to everyone in the company is critical to the program’s initial implementation and ultimate success,” explained Theresa McCormick, president, ATC Vantage. “An SMS program is only as good as the information you get from your employees so there will be a variety of reports: There will be mandatory reports, voluntary reports, and anonymous reports. The voluntary and anonymous reports are the hardest to get employees to use properly.”