Continuous Improvement of the SMS

Continuous Improvement of the SMS


To identify the causes of sub-standard performance of the Safety Management System, determine the implications of sub-standard performance in operations, and eliminate such causes.


According to ICAO Doc 9859 - Safety Management Manual this is one of the three elements of the safety assurance component of the SMS. Assurance builds on the principle of the continuous improvement cycle. In much the same way that quality assurance facilitates continuous improvements in quality, safety assurance ensures control of safety performance, including regulatory compliance, through constant verification and improvement of the operational system and services. These objectives are achieved through the application of similar tools: internal evaluations and independent audits (both internal and external), strict document control and ongoing monitoring of safety controls and mitigation actions.

Performance Verification Tools

Internal evaluations involve the evaluation of the operational activities of the organisation as well as the SMS-specific functions. The evaluations must be conducted by persons or organisations that are functionally independent of the technical process being evaluated (i.e. a specialist safety or quality assurance department or another unit as directed by senior management). The internal evaluation function also requires auditing and evaluation of safety management functions, policymaking, safety risk management, safety assurance and safety promotion. These audits provide the management officials designated responsibility for the SMS to inventory the processes of the SMS itself.

Internal audits are an important tool for managers, used to obtain information with which to make decisions and to keep operational activities on track. Thus internal audits are an essential tool for safety assurance, to help managers in charge of activities supporting the delivery of services to control that, once safety risk controls have been implemented, they continue to perform and are effective in maintaining continuing operational safety.

External audits of the SMS may be conducted by the regulator, code-share partners, customer organisations, or other third parties selected by the organisation or the regulator, for example a Qualified Entity. These audits not only provide a strong interface with the oversight system but also a secondary assurance system.

Evaluation and Improvement Areas

Continuous improvement of the SMS thus aims at determining the immediate causes of below standard performance and their implications in the operation of the SMS, and rectifying situations involving below standard performance identified through safety assurance activities. Continuous improvement is achieved through internal evaluations, internal and external audits and applies to:

  • Proactive evaluation of facilities, equipment, documentation and procedures, for example, through internal evaluations;
  • Proactive evaluation of an individual’s performance, to verify the fulfilment of that individual’s safety responsibilities, for example, through periodic competency checks;
  • Reactive evaluations in order to verify the effectiveness of the system for control and mitigation of safety risks, for example, through internal and external audits.

As a conclusion, continuous improvement can occur only when the organisation displays constant vigilance regarding the effectiveness of its technical operations and its corrective actions. Indeed, without ongoing monitoring of safety controls and mitigation actions, there is no way of telling whether the safety management process is achieving its objectives. Similarly, there is no way of measuring if an SMS is fulfilling its purpose with efficiency.

Related Articles

Further Reading


European Commission



Portal:Safety Management


SKYbrary Partners:

Safety knowledge contributed by: