What is meant by ‘Safety Management Systems’? And why is it so important?
The last century saw extraordinary developments in knowledge and technology in just about every industry. In the early years a lot of advancements were largely experimental and the rate of failure was high. However, with experience and research the techniques and technologies improved but unwanted outcomes still arose.
It became clear that even the best trained humans could fail in unexpected ways and efforts began to address human factors in various industries. These began to work but there was a realisation that humans don’t operate in isolation and that the structure and culture of an organisation could have a significant influence on safety performance. This led to the development of a systematic approach to safety management, which has become known as safety management systems or SMS.
Implementing Safety Management Systems
When it comes to designing and implementing SMS, it can be helpful to think about it like starting a small business. No-one will listen to a business founder unless they have a viable plan and SMS is no different. The plan needs to crystallise the aspirations, expectations and objectives the organisation has in reference to safety and risk. It should define roles and responsibilities and set out the allocation of resources and personnel for safety management.
Having created a business plan, the founder will then need to sell the idea to backers and stakeholders. In SMS, this constitutes an organisation-wide programme of education and communication, so that everyone from top to bottom understands the purpose and value of the system. This could be the toughest part because no-one really likes change but it is essential to engage positively with as many ‘hearts and minds’ as possible.
Next it is time to get your metaphorical hands dirty, both in business and Safety Management Systems, by implementing the plan. In SMS this is all about doing the following:
- Identifying threats to safety, assessing the risks and developing defences to create an acceptable margin of safety.
- Create a level of resilience which recognises that things can go wrong and is able to absorb them without there being harmful consequences.
- Finally the time comes to determine whether the plan has been implemented as it was designed and whether it is working as expected.
Just as a business will look back at market share, revenue and profit, SMS can monitor and measure safety performance using indicators, targets and findings. This is the feedback process that provides the leadership team with assurance that the original objectives for safety are being met. It can also offer opportunities to continuously improve the system itself.
SMS is not complicated if viewed in this way and most of it is probably already present. It is just about joining up the safety functions so that they work together rather than in isolation, or even worse at cross purposes. Taking a systematic approach may even identify waste through duplication of effort within the organisation.
Do you need support with SMS?
Verita has decades of experience in the development, implementation, evaluation and enhancement of SMS to support the organisational effort to enhance safety performance. If you feel your organisation could benefit from this, please get in touch here or book a free 30 minute consultation with us.