Understanding Safety / SMS Basic

Safety Assurance

SMS aims to eliminate or mitigate and control the risks. But the duty exists to assure the organisation and demonstrate to others (3rd party clients, Authorities etc) that the system performs accordingly. Through the safety assurance concept, we get the chance to evaluate our processes and practises, providing confidence that the implemented measures achieve their intended objectives. Safety assurance encloses all planned and systematic actions necessary to provide the confidence level required, that the system is delivering as planned and achieves the acceptable level of safety consistently. It mirrors quality assurance but with focus solely on risk management and hazard identification. Safety assurance requires continuous surveillance, recording of performance and evaluating processes and practices. A variety of information can be used for the data driven decision making process feedback and reporting. These can be audits, surveys, monitoring etc, all in a feeding system of regular management review. Without management review, the rest of the SMS components are rendered useless and will become ineffective. Safety assurance is the backbone of a continuously improving system based on organisational learning. A substantial use of Quality Management tools and processes (e.g. tree diagram, affinity diagram, activity-network diagram, interrelations diagram, priorities matrix, process design programme chart etc) are required for an effective safety assurance. Assurance is the logical step after risk management, taking over once risk controls are developed, to ensure that these controls are being practised and continue to achieve the intended purpose.

The following diagram outlines the steps towards an effective assurance programme.


Safety Assurance does not measure the output but the process effectiveness and goals. Measuring the process and not the outputs is what separates safety assurance from quality assurance. As such safety assurance is not determined by meeting production goals, but by the adequacy of the safety controls in place.

ICAO SMS framework requires the following 3 elements for an acceptable safety assurance programme:

  1. Safety Performance Indicators
  2. Change Management
  3. Continuous Improvement