Does your organization want a successful occupational safety program?  If so, and I do hope so, have you considered implementing a safety management system also referred to as safety systems at your workplace?

What is this safety management system, you may ask.  Well, to put it simple, a safety management system; known hereafter as SMS, is a systematic, comprehensive business approach to manage personal risk.  That is it.  Similar to other management systems that you may be familiar with such as ISO Environmental 14001 and ISO Quality 9001, a SMS provides goal setting, planning, and measurement of performance.  SMS is woven into the culture of a business organization.  A SMS can be imbedded within any business organization within any business industry sector.

Safety Management System

A SMS is designed with the intent to serve as a framework for an organization, as a minimum, to meet its legal occupational safety and health obligations. A SMS is only as good as its implementation and sustainable efforts.  A world class SMS involves every level of the organization, instilling “the value of safety” within the workforce that reduces incidents and improves a reduction of risk. Furthermore, a world class SMS provides evidence of continuous improvement. A business that embraces a SMS, will have a story to tell and capturing continuous improvement within the elements of SMS is a key factor of validating the SMS.

Within a SMS, all parts are interrelated and affect each other.  All elements are related to all other elements of the system. A flaw in one element will most likely impact all the other elements, and therefore the quality of the system as a whole.

Now since you have a basic and broad understanding of what is a SMS, let’s take a look at the main elements of it.  These elements are not all inclusive when identifying the broad range of safety management systems that exist.


The organization must prepare an effective occupational safety policy that provides a clear direction for the organization to follow in order to improve worker safety.  Once written, the safety policy will contribute to all other aspects of conducting day to day business within the organization.  The policy should provide a commitment to continuous improvement along with compliance to occupational safety law.  Defining expectations of customers’, stakeholders, employees and contractors should also be documented within the policy.


The organization should prepare an activity plan on how to comply with the safety policy.  An effective management structure and defined activities should be put in place to provide deliverables of the safety policy. This is accomplished through safety objectives and targets that are developed for all managers and employees.


For effective implementation, the organization should provide the mechanisms necessary to achieve its safety policy, objectives and targets. All members of the workforce should be encouraged, empowered and engaged to work safely by identifying existing and potential safety hazards.  Appropriate resources should be provided by the organization to fully implement the activities that fulfill the expectations defined within the safety policy.


Wherever possible, risks should be eliminated through the selection and design of equipment, processes and facilities.  If risks have been identified and cannot be eliminated, they should be minimized to an acceptable level as defined by the organization.  Minimizing risk is managed through the use of physical controls and safe systems of work or, as a last resort, through the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Performance standards should be established for all members of the workforce and are to be used for measuring achievement of eliminating or minimizing occupational risk.  Specific actions to promote a positive safety and health culture should be identified.   Organizations should instill the value of safety within their workforce by a means of providing a clear vision, values and belief system of the organization.  By instilling the value of safety within a workforce will foster a positive and proactive safety culture within the organization.


Employees need to know about the workplace hazards to which they may be exposed to.  Furthermore, employees need to know how to recognize hazards, and how to control their exposure. The best way for them to gain this knowledge is through education and training.

Education teaches why safe practices and procedures are established and shall be followed; education affects attitudes about safety and attitudes affect behavior. Training, on the other hand, improves skills necessary for working safely.


A success safety management system is one that is able to effectively measure, monitor and evaluate its safety and performance. Performance can be measured against standards to reveal when and where improvement is needed. Active self-monitoring through periodic assessments, inspections and observations reveals how effectively the safety management system is or is not functioning. A self-monitoring program looks at the overall operations of the facility, departments and specific job tasks by employees. Furthermore, it also looks at workforce behavior, defined safety procedures, and a review f the chemical inventory located on the premise. If, during the self-monitoring operational controls fail, an investigation should be conducted to find out why.

The objectives of an investigation are:

  • to determine the immediate causes of subpar performance;
  • identify underlying causes for the design and operation of the safety management system;.
  • establish longer-term objectives should also be monitored.

The organization should periodically review and improve its safety management system so that its overall safety performance improves constantly. There should be an established systematic review of safety performance based on information received from monitoring mechanisms such as audits.

As mentioned earlier, there should be evidence of strong commitment to continuous improvement involving the development of the safety policy, operational systems and techniques of risk control.

Safety performance should be assessed by:

  • internal reference to key safety performance indicators;
  • external comparison with the performance of the organizations industry competitors
  • best practices shared within the organization and industry.

Many companies now report to their shareholders on how well they have performed on worker safety in their annual reports and how they have fulfilled their responsibilities with regard to preparing and implementing their safety statements.

In conclusion, operating on the principle of PLAN – DO – CHECK – ACT, a safety management system enables an organization to carefully examine what they do, define and implement safety improvements and continuously review and manage safety systems and processes.

PLAN – Plan the safety management system.

DO – Implement the safety management system.

CHECK – Evaluate the safety management system.

ACT – Improve the safety management system.


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