Helicopters Magazine

Features Procedures Safety & Training
The Safe Approach

March 8, 2011  By Neil J. MacDonald

Creating a safe, secure environment for clients and employees to work in is a standard to which all helicopter operators should aspire.

Creating a safe, secure environment for clients and employees to work in is a standard to which all helicopter operators should aspire.

And when you get right down to it, having an effective quality/safety management system (Q/SMS) is not only an worthy goal – it’s the very process by which you will attain it! Intending to have an effective Q/SMS will help all organizations turn their corporate minds in the right direction.

Transport Canada (TC) defines SMS as, “a documented process for managing risks that integrates operations and technical systems with the management of financial and human resources to ensure aviation safety or the safety of the public.”

SMS has been developed (in part) from quality management principles found in the International Organization for Standardization (the ISO) 9000 family of standards. The ISO website states: “The ISO 9001:2008 standard provides a tried and tested framework for taking a systematic approach to managing the organization’s processes so that they consistently turn out product that satisfies customers’ expectations.” These are not new ideas – they have been around since the industrial age.


What is new though, is the global intention for this standardization to occur. Q/SMS are developed to ensure – as much as possible – that everyone knows what is expected, and that everyone is pulling in the same direction. Most companies need Q/SMS if they want to operate in the international market. The oil and gas industry is a big proponent.

There are at least a couple of ways to implement Q/SMS. Many healthy organizations already have systems in place to ensure the quality of their products, and the safety of their employees. A Q/SMS can be developed by documenting these systems, then comparing and improving (if required), using the ISO standard. A Q/SMS can also start out as an off-the-shelf, plug-and-play system that you then mould around your needs. According to TC, a fundamental principle of SMS success is that the organizations build the system themselves. This way they are more reflective of the operations’ needs.

Think of Q/SMS as a process – not some manual sitting on a desk. Companies may fail at this point if they feel that once they have a Q/SMS in place everything will fall in line. A proper Q/SMS is a living process. It is important for everyone in the organization to buy into the system. It cannot be pushed down from the top level of the organization – especially if the processes are not reflective of the reality of the shop floor. Remember, a Q/SMS is a procedure whereby you document the current (or ideal) process, check to see whether you are on track, then make the appropriate changes necessary to align yourself with the ideal process. This is called the “plan, do, check, act” quality cycle. If your documented processes are ones that are not possible to achieve in the current business model, then you have already lost the game – and the people on the shop floor.

Q/SMS is a closed-loop, continual improvement process. A process that expressly states the management of risks is integral to the management of the business itself.

The basics, according to TC, are as follows. There needs to be a policy on which the system is based. There must be a process for setting safety goals, and measuring performance against those goals. There must be an ability to identify, evaluate, and manage safety hazards. This must be combined with a structure for reporting hazards internally. Employees need to understand their role in the process, and be fully trained in their own job functions. Finally, there must be a mechanism in place that allows for periodic audits of the SMS itself.

Transport Canada requires operators to demonstrate the effectiveness of their SMS. It wants to see how well you are able to identify, assess and respond to safety concerns before they become safety occurrences.

A Q/SMS is only effective if it gets proper attention throughout its life cycle. The right processes must be identified initially, and then properly documented. The whole organization must buy into the process, and then be trained to work within it. The process must be closed looped, and include a procedure to continually monitor performance.

Many of us have done these things for years in one form or another. The quality/safety management system is the methodology that helps us prove to ourselves, and to others, we are doing the right things!

Neil MacDonald is an aviation lawyer with Harper Grey LLP. He has completed an ISO 9001:2008 QMS Lead Auditor course, holds an ATPL-H, and flies as an IFR Off-Shore Captain. nmacdonald@harpergrey.com. This is not a legal opinion. Readers should not act on the basis of this article without first consulting a lawyer for analysis and advice on a specific matter.


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