Safety Management Systems

10 Aug
Safety Management System


Comments: No Comments

Safe + Sound Week

Most companies have health and safety policies and procedures in place to help ensure the safety and well-being of their employees. At a minimum, it is important to verify implementation of required safety programs at all locations. As a best practice, implementing a safety management system (SMS) provides companies with the opportunity to better manage, control, and improve health and safety performance.

SMS Basics

An SMS is the organizing framework that enables companies to achieve and sustain their operational and safety objectives through a process of continuous improvement. The SMS is designed to identify and manage safety risks through an organized set of policies, procedures, practices, and resources that guide the enterprise and its activities to maximize business value. The SMS addresses:

  • What is done and why.
  • How it is done and by whom.
  • How well it is being done.
  • How it is maintained and reviewed.
  • How it can be improved.

Each company’s SMS reflects its unique safety culture, vision, and values. To be effective and valuable, the SMS must be tailored and focused on how it can enhance the business and safety performance of the organization. It must also be:

  • Useful to people in the operations.
  • Intuitive—organized the way operations people think.
  • Flexible—making use of methods and tools as they are developed and documented.
  • Valuable from the outset—addressing the most critical risks and processes.
  • A means to better align safety with operational quality, environmental concerns, and overall business operations.

SMS Development

An effective SMS requires senior management commitment and guidance, coupled with employee engagement. Importantly, the SMS involves a continual cycle of planning, implementing, reviewing, and improving the way in which safety obligations and objectives are met. In its simplest form, this involves implementing the Plan, Do, Check, Act/Adjust (P-D-C-A) cycle for continuous improvement.

There are some basic steps to creating a SMS:

  • Invest the time to understand the current scope of operations, functional departments, compliance requirements, governance structure, etc. across the entire organization, not just siloed departments.
  • Conduct a gap assessment to evaluate the current (“as-is”) condition of any formal or informal SMS against the desired (“to-be”) condition (e.g., ISO 45001, ANSI Z10).
  • Create a development and implementation plan outlining tasks and resources required to close any identified gaps and achieve those objectives.
    • Determine key components of the SMS required to achieve business objectives.
    • Identify common elements to be standardized and incorporated into the SMS (e.g., policies, procedures, processes, metrics, training).
    • Determine what information technology can support and streamline the SMS.
  • Provide relevant training to all interested parties to truly operationalize the SMS across the organization.

SMS Standards

ISO 45001 and ANSI Z10 both offer widely recognized frameworks for creating an effective SMS—one that helps companies to:

  • Identify and control health and safety risks.
  • Reduce the potential for accidents.
  • Aid in legal compliance.
  • Achieve greater consistency and reliability.
  • Improve overall performance.

The ISO 45001 and ANSI Z10 standards both contain elements that are designed to be compatible with the structures of ISO 9001 and ISO 14001, allowing organizations to more easily align their SMS with other existing management systems (e.g., environmental, quality, food safety, security). An aligned SMS helps companies to achieve improved and more reliable safety performance, while adding measurable business value.


Companies can become certified to each of the standards discussed above. Certification has a number of benefits, including the following:

  • Meet customer or supply chain requirements.
  • Use outside drivers to maintain management system process discipline (e.g., periodic risk assessment, document management, compliance evaluation, internal audits, management review).
  • Take advantage of third-party assessment and recommendations.
  • Improve standing with regulatory agencies (e.g., OSHA, state programs).
  • Demonstrate the application of industry best practice in the event of incidents/accidents requiring defense of practices.

However, if there is no market or other business driver, certification can lead to unnecessary additional cost and effort regarding management system development. Certification in itself does not mean improved performance—management system structure, operation, and management commitment determine that.

Bringing Value to the Organization

The connection between the SMS and compliance is vital in avoiding recurring compliance issues and in reducing variation in safety performance. In fact, reliable and effective regulatory compliance is commonly an outcome of consistent and reliable implementation of a management system. Beyond that, there are a number of business reasons for implementing an SMS:

  • Establishes a common documented framework to achieve more consistent implementation of compliance policies and processes.
  • Provides clear methods and processes to identify, prioritize risks, and communicate risks to employees and management—then allocate the resources to mitigate them.
  • Allows for development of meaningful objectives to drive ongoing improvements in health and safety performance.
  • Empowers individual facilities and departments to take responsibility for processes and compliance performance without waiting to be told “what” and “how”.
  • Enables better collaboration and communication across a distributed company with many locations.
  • Provides tracking information and reporting on common safety activities and performance metrics across the company.
  • Builds company know-how, captures/retains institutional knowledge, and creates consistent processes and procedures that support personnel changes (e.g., transfers, promotions, retirements, new employees) without causing disruption or gaps.
  • Allows for more consistent oversight and governance, yielding higher predictability and reliability.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *