Safety Management Systems and Improving your Organization’s Safety

January 22, 2019

What is a safety management system?

A management system is the playbook on how an organization manages its moving parts. It provides guidelines to achieve your operational goals and create a culture of safety. The level of simplicity or the complexity of such a system is entirely dependent on the size of your organization, documentation requirements, the business functions needing control, various stakeholders, the business sector and even legal obligations. Most organizations require more than just a checklist or safety manual to make sure they are doing more than just complying with regulatory requirements. You need help managing the human factors, promoting safety awareness, providing guidelines to your employees and working towards accident prevention.

graphic of frontline workers with tools and safety gear in front of a building and cranes

Specific to safety, a Safety Management System (SMS) is a strategic, systematic approach to ensuring a culture of safety within your organization. It is not just a set of rules based on regulatory standards such as OSHA or the HSE. The SMS is a collection of management elements that are identified and evaluated to develop and execute plans. These plans will help you to gain and sustain control within a process framework. While organizations will decide what features the Safety Management System needs to control, the general areas for consideration include:

  1. Management Leadership and Commitment
  2. Hazard and Risk Identification, Evaluation and Control
  3. Safety and Health Participation, Awareness and Communication
  4. Workplace Inspections
  5. Rules, Procedures and Written Instruction
  6. Incident Investigation
  7. Safety and Health Training and Skill Development
  8. Emergency Response Planning
  9. System Administration and auditing and control
  10. Document Control

How do I implement a safety management system?

Implementing an effective safety management system begins with a thorough audit of your current system. Identify the gaps that pose greatest loss potential. Stealing an idea from LEAN called Kaizen, the first task to gain process strength is to determine the appropriate target areas for improvement. You need to understand the “mess” and identify the areas of the organization that are not meeting performance expectations. You also need to be proactive and identify where potential loss could have significantly adverse impacts on the organization.

Consider the following areas as integral parts of your evaluation:

  • Records of past incidents, injuries, accidents, illnesses and near misses. Review OSHA logs, first aid logs, workers’ compensation reports and complaints.
  • Trends in your lagging indicators such as Total Incident Rates (TIR), Lost-Time Incident Rate (LTIR), Days Away, Restricted or Transferred Rate (DART), workers’ compensation loss data.
  • Progress toward risk reduction and the efforts to identify, assess and prioritize risk.
  • The effectiveness of efforts to identify, assess and prioritize management system insufficiencies
  • Status updates and trends for the corrective actions and preventive actions plan.
  • Perceptions from employees, supervisors and managers.
  • Follow-up actions and status updates from safety and health management system audits and the outputs from other management system audits affecting the safety management system.
  • Performance of the safety and health management system relative to expectations, considering changing circumstances, resource need, alignment of the business plan and general consistency of the organizations’ occupational health and safety policy.

Establishing an SMS requires continuous evaluation

Evaluating a safety management system is a process that takes a while and is never completely done.  It needs to be a cyclical process done annually. If you are not continually assessing the performance and effectiveness of your SMS, you are probably not going to gain an understanding of what is working well. You will not be able to identify and mitigate the gaps that need to be filled. Effectively implemented an SMS requires continuous improvement, oversight, expertise and accountability.

You need to involve more of the workforce to conduct a thorough review of your existing processes. It cannot be done in isolation. Leaders and managers need to be involved because they are responsible for the day to day administration of the system. Employees should be included because they are affected by the management system and will be the ones tasked with facilitating change.

If your evaluation is performed well, an effective SMS can be developed and executed within your organization. A structured approach with proper program monitoring will help you reduce the costs of injury, illness, damage to property and issues within the manufacturing process will be identified far more quickly. The cost of not implementing these measures has the potential to far exceed the cost of doing so within a Safety Management System framework.

Additional Reading

About the Author: Scott Gaddis, Vice President, Global Practice Leader, Safety and Health

Scott Gaddis, Vice President, Global Practice Leader, Safety and Health at Intelex Technologies. He has over 25 years in EHS leadership experience in heavy manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and packaging industries. Before joining Intelex, Scott served as Vice President of EHS for Coveris High Performance Packaging, was Executive Director of EHS at Bristol-Myers Squibb, and was Global Leader for Occupational Safety and Health at Kimberly-Clark Corp.