Introduction: Safety Management System
Over the past 15 of my career, I have seen a fast-changing industrial landscape that has shifted mindsets from safety being merely a moral duty and a compliance requirement, through to a pathway of achieving operational excellence. Strong evidence indicates that organisations boasting the greatest safety performance have also implemented an effective Safety Management System (SMS).
A Safety Management System defines our approach to safety. It incorporates a safety framework, processes and procedures for managing and mitigating risks associated with workplace hazards. When implemented effectively an SMS allows organisations to foster a safety-oriented culture, increase compliance and maintain a commitment to continuously improve health and safety practices.
In this article we explore the significance and the benefit of an SMS.
Key Components of a Safety Management System
1. Policy and Objective Establishment
In speaking with many organisational leaders one of the things that has been unanimous is the sentiment that safety starts from the top. This means making a true commitment that aligns safety it to core values and strategic goals. By creating strategic alignment, we prioritise safety objectives and develop associated policies critical for establishing an effective SMS.
By adopting a strategic position, we find clarity in the importance of upholding safety at the highest level. We can also associate operational activities with safety objectives providing purpose as to why we need to operate safely. If we are serious about creating a positive safety culture then we must be willing to have it represented in our mission, vision, and values and strategies. One of the main reasons we built Skefto is to help our customers create complete vertical and horizontal alignment. We help our customers elevate safety to a strategic position and cascade it through to all operational activities. In addition, we help breakdown silos by creating horizontal alignment between safety and other operational plans.
2. Risk Management
As a risk and safety advocate, I cannot emphasise enough the critical role of risk management in a Safety Management Systems. It helps identify hazards, assess risks, and most importantly implement effective control measures. It is at the core of an SMS. I helps us qualify the potential impacts of operational hazards and guides us to an acceptable risk level. Without an approach to risk management organisations would be navigating blindly and exposing themselves to unqualified and unforeseen dangers.
3. Safety Assurance
How many times have we put together what we believe to be a solid risk management plan with an effective control strategy only to see related incidents eventuate. Whilst risk management is the pillar of an effective SMS, maintaining a safety assurance program we will ensure its success. It is the aspect of an SMS that involves regular monitoring, audits, and evaluations. With this we can be confident on the effectiveness of safety controls as well as identifying areas for improvement. It acts as a verifier within the Safety Management System (SMS). It ensures safety isn’t a theoretical concept but something that we experience and test in practice. In a world where risks are constantly evolving, a continuous commitment to safety assurance ensures our SMS remains current and effective.
4. Safety Management System Training and Communication
Angelica M. Vecchio-Sadus from the CSIRO describes “The process of safety communication like traffic on a road. You need to plan the route to your destination, respond to signals and signs, take a different route if your path is blocked, modify your approach according to the conditions (motivation, culture, status, etc.), and slow down when required”.
Training and communication play a critical role in establishing an effective Safety Management System (SMS). They ensure safety is actively embraced both in body and mind. By equipping employees with safety training and promoting open lines of communication we are empowering them to identify potential hazards and respond appropriately. This allows employees to bridge the gap between safety policies and their practical implementation. It also ensures safety is not a directive but a reality that has been practically experienced. In our pursuit of creating a safe workplace training provides us with capabilities and tools whilst effective communication ensures their use at the right time.
5. Emergency Preparedness
Regardless of an organisations size or industry, unexpected emergencies can occur. My career has shown me the importance of emergency preparedness carried out by organisations such CFA, SES, FRV, and DFES, who’s primary purpose is to protect our communities. From fires to floods, and hazardous material spills, significant events can pose risks to lives, disrupt operations, and cause major reputational and financial harm. Our Safety Management System (SMS) should provide an approach for developing, reviewing, and referencing procedures that support preparation and response to potential disasters. It is not about preparing for worst case scenarios, but instead ensuring optimal outcomes even in the most challenging situations. We live in a world of uncertainty, and rapid change. By investing in emergency preparedness, we can provide reassurance to our employees, customers, stakeholders, shareholders communities, that no matter what happens we are prepared, resilient and committed to ensuring safety.
Traditionally keeping up to date with safety relations has meant avoiding legal consequences. In today’s safety landscape we are seeing many organisations also use regulations as a reference point for achieving best practice. Instead of focusing on the penalties that may result from not adhering to laws and regulations, many organisations are now embracing the intent behind their legal mandate recognising they have been designed for protection. With this, and the introduction of the International Safety Standards such as ISO 45001, the definition of what it means to be compliant has taken a different meaning. As a result, the nature and intent of our Safety Management System should also reflect safety compliance trends.
5 Benefits of Having a Safety Management System
1. Decreased Injuries
Undoubtedly the most important benefit of a Safety Management System is how it protects the safety and wellbeing of our people. It is the basis for minimising incidents and managing injuries in the workplace by providing a comprehensive plan for how safety is designed and delivered. It incorporates policies, procedures, and practices that work together to create a safety work environment. With risk management at its heart, an SMS provides the approach for responding to safety challenges, and more so helps predict and prevent them.
2. Cost Savings
Whilst we sometimes find it difficult to calculate our return of investment in a Safety Management System (SMS), there is no doubt the cost of workplace incidents if not appropriately managed can take a toll. By reducing incidents and ensuring compliance we can reduce regulatory fines, compensation expenses, operational disruptions, and insurance premiums. By not merely deeming an investment in safety as an expense, but instead a strategic pillar, we can realise significant financial savings. We can also improve the accuracy of financial forecasting and budgeting, and support business growth by attracting customers who require a minimum level of safety performance.
3. Enhanced Reputation
Demonstrating a commitment to safety enhances an organisations reputation among clients, stakeholders, shareholders, benefactors, donors, employees, and the wider community. An SMS can serve as a catalyst for safety performance that opens doors to new business opportunities or secures funding for contracts. It could even be the reason why prospective employees see our organisation as their preferred employer. It plays a role in building confidence, among people who want to be part of our community by assuring them that their safety is our top priority. By prioritising and implementing a SMS we not only protect our most valuable asset—our people—but also cultivate a brand image associated with responsibility, integrity and excellence.
4. Increased Efficiency with a Safety Management System
I often think about the link between workplace productivity, and a positive culture where employees feel that their safety and wellbeing are the highest priority. Can good health and a positive mindset, result in our employees achieving an optimum level of performance? For many centuries the Japanese have adopted the “healthy body, healthy mind” philosophy, by taking a proactive approach to ensuring good health and wellbeing. This approach ultimately leads to reduction in work stoppages and downtime caused by incidents. Resultingly employees can focus on their job knowing workplace hazards are effectively managed. The net result is enhanced productivity and decreased absenteeism.
5. Continuous Improvement
Continuous improvement is at the core of an effective Safety Management System (SMS). Regular assessments and evaluations allow for the refinement of safety controls providing adaptiveness and agility to changing conditions. An SMS should be improved as part of a continuous feedback loop and ongoing evaluation processes. This fosters a culture of improvement and inclusion where safety measures are constantly evolving. Every time a safety incident, near miss, safety observation or inspections occurs it provides an opportunity to learn and improve. Most importantly the feedback loop within a Safety Management System (SMS) ensures that insights from all levels of the organisation are combined with external drivers such as legislation, to contribute to its development. The design of an SMS should be adaptable so that it always stays current and relevant.
When embarking on our safety journey we should never leave our Safety Management System (SMS) behind. When navigating through the complexities of the regulatory landscape and an ever-changing operating environment our SMS will act as our guiding compass and lead us towards safety excellence. An investment in our Safety Management System ensure we effectively combine risk management principles, employee wellbeing considerations and compliance measures to foster a positive safety culture.