Interdependence Between Safety Culture and Safety Management Systems in ATM

Interdependence Between Safety Culture and Safety Management Systems in ATM

A positive Safety Culture can be a strong enabler to ensure the SMS works in practice. The reverse can also be true: implementing a good SMS can be an enabler for Safety Culture. (Safety Culture Enhancement Toolbox in ATM)


Safety management implies a systematic approach to managing safety, including the necessary organisational structure, competencies, accountabilities, policies and procedures.

It is recognised that the existence of an appropriate and comprehensive Safety Management System (SMS) is necessary for maintaining and improving the safety of ATM operations. However, it may not be sufficient to guarantee adequate safety performance.

Is an SMS Enough?

A SMS will not assure safety if it is not used properly, i.e. all staff involved in the provision of ATM services need to be properly aware of its existence, understand its basis, and be motivated to use it.

Organisations are managed by organisational practices, which affect both performance and reliability of safety systems. A well-developed SMS can therefore serve as an accelerator of Safety Culture (Reason 1993, 1997).

It is not enough for an organisation to have good safety management system, because performance is determined by how organisations actually ‘live’ or ‘act out’ their systems.

Thus, an ANSP needs both a SMS and a positive Safety Culture in order to be safe. They are like body and soul and should reinforce each other.

Implementing an SMS or a Safety Culture

The strength of treating Safety Culture and safety management in tandem is that the approach can sometimes translate or focus Safety Culture improvement needs into tangible improvements to the SMS.

An alternative approach is to retain some distance between the two areas. This still allows feedback on where a SMS may not actually be working in practice (e.g. a technical problem in the error reporting system that stops people from bothering to report incidents), while allowing an albeit fuzzier focus on deeper cultural issues that can be unearthed during Safety Culture surveys, e.g. regional differences in safety attitudes, or problems of mistrust between different sections or layers in the organisation (e.g. operational staff believing an SMS is just ‘for show’ or to ‘protect’ managers).

Improving the SMS through Safety Culture

A properly implemented SMS operates in a complementary and interdependent way with the Safety Culture to create a safer organisation. The SMS must be actively improved and realised.

A SMS represents an organisation’s competence in the area of safety, and it is important to have an SMS and competent safety staff to execute it. Safety Culture can be summarised as the degree of commitment to safety evident throughout the organisation. This includes a commitment to use the SMS as intended.

Improving Safety Management System from the Safety Culture Perspective

The following list shows tips to improve SMS through principles inherent to Safety Culture:

  • Consider the SMS as a ‘living system’ that should reflect best industry practice matched against the particular needs of your ANSP.
  • Review the content of the SMS regularly, drawing on new ideas and current best practice.
  • Strengthen the SMS using internal feedback from the primary sources of safety data within your organisation (occurrence reports, confidential reports, safety forums etc.) and from ATM more generally.
  • Conduct a gap analysis to identify areas where the SMS could be improved. These often surround issues like incident reporting, stress and fatigue management and competence in safety science.
  • Make sure there is a clear focus on risks associated with human factors. These are known to contribute to the majority of accidents, yet are often less well-understood in technology-based industries.

Linking SMS and Safety Culture

The safety health of any organisation is the product of two key elements:

  • The quality and execution of the systems and processes implemented to deal with risk and safety-related information (the Safety Management System, which may or may not be formalised), and
  • The Safety Culture, which includes people's shared values, beliefs and attitudes about safety.

These two elements combine to characterise the way that people behave within their organisation, the 'behavioural norms'. (See Figure 1)

Figure 1 - Interdependence between SMS and Safety Culture in an organisation.

Therefore SMS and Safety Culture are interdependent with the SMS embodying the competence to achieve safety, and Safety Culture representing the commitment to achieve safety. The outcome of these features is an adequate cognisance, referring to the organisation’s correct awareness and understanding of the threats to its operations, which in turn shapes behaviours towards safety.

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