Skip to main content

Part 3: How to Incorporate a Diagnostic Evaluation into a Safety Management System (SMS)

Silas is a safety inspector who obtained his Master of Science in Safety and Master of Business Administration degrees

Diagnostic Evaluation

Diagnostic Evaluation

Safety management systems (SMS) remain a valuable process that companies often criticize as complex and burdensome. According to Accou and Reniers (2020), SMS resembles a process to align within a company's core activity. However, SMS does not consistently deliver the performance that leadership expects, or compliance with the regulatory requirements does not reduce accidents and personnel injuries. An SMS program demands resiliency and flexibility to align with the company's operation. Often resiliency relies on the ability of the employees to ensure the system functions to achieve objectives under a changing environment. While the SMS program design intends to reduce risk, an analysis of the safety program must determine whether the common goal aligns with the policy and personnel actions.

The diagnostic evaluation determines whether the SMS processes and personnel actions match the language contained in the safety documentation. To determine whether the alignment exists and the safety program functions as advertised, a diagnostic evaluation presents a method to conclude whether the program meets the objective.

This article determines whether personnel actions and program outcomes align with the process developed within the safety management system (SMS).

Safety Management System (SMS) Categories

Four categories make up the primary management system. Management systems determine who governs and has responsibility for the program. Risk management requires identifying hazards, determining the level of risk, and developing controls to reduce the likelihood and severity of an event. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) states that managing safety programs includes a process that entails four components (FAA, 2020). The components include policy, risk management, safety assurance, and promotion. The four SMS categories identify an evolutionary process in managing system safety (FAA, 2019). However, a diagnostic evaluation will determine whether the policy matches the actions of those involved in the program. The policy states what requirements exist, while the actions stipulate how or did the employee follow the procedures.

Diagnostic Evaluation

Diagnostic Evaluation

Diagnostic Evaluation Phases

SMS provides a process to oversee safety throughout the lifecycle of the program. Although controlling the likelihood and severity requires using a risk management system incorporated in the SMS, accidents continue to happen. Bahr (2015) mentions that the health and wellbeing of the organizational SMS process presents an important element concerning safety oversight. A holistic view determines whether the management infrastructure and processes remain adequate to manage the program. The diagnostic evaluation remains an essential element to determine SMS health. While SMS categories exist as a safety template to manage safety, the diagnostic phases consist of six phases to ensure the SMS program aligns with the intended outcome. Table 1 lists the six diagnostic phases.

Table 1: SMS Diagnostic Phases

Six phased used in the diagnostic evaluation of an SMS process.


Phase 1

Develop Diagnostic Goal and Schedule

Phase 2

Compile Background Infomation

Phase 3

Prepare Diagnostic Plan & Template

Phase 4

Pre-Review Meeting

Phase 5

Conduce Onsite Diagnostic

Phase 6

Prepare Final Report and Briefing

Evaluation Phases 1, 2, 3, and 4

The diagnostic process described by Bahr (2015) includes the following. Phase one involves developing diagnostic goals and schedules. The first line of business involves what the evaluation is trying to measure. Set goals and objectives to determine whether the diagnostic is on target as a measurable outcome. Next, phase two incorporates a method to compile background information. Have an understanding of the SMS and how it fits into the company. Phase three prepares the diagnostic plan and template. The SMS diagnostic should follow a formal review plan that resembles an audit. Review documents, interview personnel, and observe operations before starting the diagnostic. The preview meeting, or phase four, allows for a formal meeting to distinguish the plan, goal, template use, data sources, and how the team will present the findings to the executive leadership (Bahr, 2015).

Scroll to Continue

Phase 5

Phase five includes conducting an onsite diagnostic to determine causes rather than identify symptoms. The onsite analysis should include four steps. First, Bahr (2015) mentions that onsite diagnostic procedures include reviewing documents that support the use of an SMS program. Next, interviewing staff, management, and executive leaders provides insight into the safety culture. Often the program written on paper does not match the actions of personnel. Also, observe a sampling of SMS activities such as work practices, project schedules, working conditions, and problems highlighted in incident and accident reports (Bahr, 2015). Finally, include the data from the three steps into the diagnostic template.

Phase 6

Phase six involves producing the final report and briefing the appropriate decision-makers. The last task should summarize the diagnostic template and information contained in the worksheet. Bahr (2015) mentions that data, summaries, and recommendations present options to improve the SMS process. Findings should include areas to improve and provide steps to follow by prioritizing actions and presenting timelines. The final report should include an executive summary of the findings and recommendations. The document should include the diagnostic scope and findings that present an impact on the company. Each finding should determine the outcome by discovering trends, implications to the company, and safety oversight. Finally, recommendations and the conclusion should state the actions, timelines, and budget.

Team Effort

Team Effort

Team Effort and Outcome

The diagnostic team should include a minimum of five professionals with diverse experience that includes engineering, operations, and management. The timeline for the analysis should include approximately four weeks, although the timeline depends on the team's experience level. Next, tips and best practices represent merit to ensure the diagnostic process presents results that support the company. Bahr (2015) mentions that jumping into the analysis too fast may not work for the company while observing SMS activities and determine whether they follow the written information contained in the safety program. Also, train the team that conducts the audits and ensures the information collected remains practical.

Problems noted within the SMS process become evident through personnel actions versus the SMS document language. Next, align different specialties to ensure the team focuses on a holistic view instead of selecting a few professions. Finally, utilize the diagnostic template to gather data includes using it as a checklist. Data remains a critical element to determine the cause instead of listing the symptoms.

Safety Series

Part 1: Why Does Safety Engineering Become Necessary for Business Success in a Global Economy?

Part 2: How to Mitigate Risk by Using the Philosophy of Engineering Instead of Safety Management Systems (SMS)


Related Articles