Safety Management

Safety Management


Safety management is commonly understood as applying a set of principles, framework, processes and measures to prevent accidents, injuries and other adverse consequences that may be caused by using a service or a product. It is that function which exists to assist managers in better discharging their responsibilities for operational system design and implementation through either the prediction of system’s deficiencies before errors occur or the identification and correction of system’s deficiencies by professional analysis of safety occurrences.

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


Safety management is an organisational function, which ensures that all safety risks have been identified, assessed and satisfactorily mitigated.


The objective of safety management in the aviation industry is to prevent human injury or loss of life, and to avoid damage to the environment and to property.


The primary focus of safety management in aviation is on safety of flights encompassing also all associated and support services, which can have an impact on safety, for example air navigation services, aerodrome operations management, etc. Occupational safety and related health & environmental issues fall outside the scope of SKYbrary articles on safety management and are generally dealt with by a separate management system.

Introducing Safety Management in Aviation

The concept of proactive safety management in aviation originated in the mid 1990s. It encompasses a business-like management approach to the safety of flight operations.

In retrospect the initial and fragile “fly-fix-fly” system (1920s - 1970s), was reactive in nature, i.e. the emphasis was put on individual risk management, intensive training and accident investigation. This approach was gradually replaced by a new system-based concept. From the 1970s to the mid 1990s the adopted model was mainly influenced by the progress of technology and shifted the concern towards human error. The focus was to contain and mitigate the human error through regulation and training; lessons were being learned from incident investigations and other industries. In spite of substantial investment of resources in human error mitigation, the major reason for safety breakdowns continued to be attributed to unsatisfactory human performance as a recurring factor. From the mid 90’s onwards, a new approach towards managing safety was adopted, proactively utilising and analysing routinely collected safety-related data.

Reactive Safety Management

According to the ICAO Safety Management Manual (Doc 9859) safety management in the aviation industry is a combination of the two described perspectives, traditional and modern. The reactive (or traditional) safety management approach is useful when dealing with technological failures, or unusual events. It is generally described by the following characteristics:

  • The focus is on compliance with the minimum safety requirements;
  • The level of safety is based on reported safety occurrences, with its inherent limitations, such as: examination of actual failures only; insufficiency of data to determine safety trends; insufficiency of insight regarding the chain of causal and contributory events; the existence and role of latent unsafe conditions.

Proactive Safety Management

The proactive approach in the safety management is based on following a risk management strategy that includes identifying hazards before they materialise into incidents or accidents and taking the necessary actions to reduce the safety risks. Components of a proactive safety management strategy are:

None of these components will, on their own, meet expectations for improved aviation safety management. An integrated use of all these components will increase a system’s resistance to unsafe acts and conditions. The consistent integration of the components of proactive safety management is commonly referred to as a Safety Management System (SMS).

The growing recognition of the role and importance of safety management has led to the progressive implementation of safety management systems by aviation service provider organisations (airlines, air navigation service providers, airport operators) in the last few years. This process is managed and monitored by States through dedicated safety programmes in line with International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) recommendations.

Improving corporate safety performance by proactively managing the safety of provided services is increasingly recognised by all aviation sectors as a prerequisite for sustainable business management and operational growth.

The Cost of Safety

Safety comes at a price. All organisations have limited resources to devote to safety, and must deal continually with the conflicting goals of safety versus productivity, efficiency, or customer service objectives, which ultimately determine profitability. Financial health in any business will be influenced not only by good management and internal efficiency, but by the external economic environment.

A stated commitment to safety is necessary but not sufficient to enable safety improvements. The commitment must be supported by appropriate resourcing - of technology and equipment, training and expertise, policies and systems that promote operational safety.

One indicator of a positive safety culture is the extent to which these resources for safety are immune from an organisation’s financial situation. The commitment to safety should be consistent and visible regardless of any financial pressures facing the organisation, whether internally or externally generated.

The extent to which an organisation’s financial health operates and is committed to safety (as stated) will be apparent from information about the following decisions and practices:

  • What budgetary changes affecting safety are made when ‘times are tough’? For example, is some safety-related training seen as dispensable and is cut or postponed?
  • To what extent are productivity or efficiency pressures increased at these times? For example, is ‘cutting corners’ encouraged or condoned more often?
  • Do management priorities, messages and most importantly their actions change from a focus on safety to other organisational goals, such as the ‘bottom line’?

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