A safety management system (SMS) is a continuous improvement process that reduces hazards and prevents incidents. It protects the health and safety of your employees and should be integrated into everyday processes throughout the organization. Investing in an SMS makes a measurable impact on your bottom line and can be viewed as a competitive advantage.
The adoption of an SMS framework and thoughtful implementation of the various pieces can have a significant impact on protecting employees and enhancing your organization’s performance and profitability. Now, safety requirements may differ across industries; the best performing organizations focus on continuous improvement that achieves the ongoing reduction of risk with a goal of zero incidents. Yes, we do sometimes have to say that. And yes, just because you have zero incidents in a given reporting period does not mean the organization is risk-free. Like I always say, no injury doesn’t indicate a lack of risk. But the best companies know this so they look at the individual components of the SMS that designed to achieve just that – lowered risk which nets us lower (or none) injuries — so focusing on the how gets us to the big aspirational goal.
Ok, so let’s talk about the recent history of SMS and how it may impact the general industry and eventually construction over the years. According to the FAA, SMS is the formal, top-down, organization-wide approach to managing safety risk and assuring the effectiveness of safety risk controls. It includes systematic procedures, practices, and policies for the management of safety risks.
Since requiring it in March 2015, the FAA says Safety Management System is becoming a standard throughout the aviation industry worldwide. It is recognized by the Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO), International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and Civil Aviation Authorities (CAA) and product/service providers as the next step in the evolution of safety in aviation. SMS is also becoming a standard for the management of safety beyond aviation. Similar management systems are used in the management of other critical areas such as quality, occupational safety, and health, security, environment, etc.
Safety Management Systems for product/service providers (certificate holders) and regulators will integrate modern safety risk management and safety assurance concepts into repeatable, proactive systems. SMSs emphasize safety management as a fundamental business process to be considered in the same manner as other aspects of business management.
By recognizing the organization’s role in accident prevention, SMSs provide to both certificate holders and FAA:
- A structured means of safety risk management decision making
- A method of demonstrating safety management capability before system failures occur
- Increased confidence in risk controls though structured safety assurance processes
- An effective interface for knowledge sharing between regulator and certificate holder
- A safety promotion framework to support a sound safety culture
The Public Transportation Agency Safety Plan (PTASP) Final Rule in 2018 requires individual operators of public transportation systems that receive federal funds to develop safety plans that include the processes and procedures necessary for implementing SMS. Among other requirements, the rule calls on agencies to report their Safety Management Policy and processes for safety risk management, safety assurance, and safety promotion.
And as many safety pros know, ISO has developed a standard that will help organizations to improve employee safety, reduce workplace risks, and create better, safer working conditions, all over the world. Participants in the new ISO 45001 development process used other standards such as ANSI Z10 as well as British OHSAS 18001, Canada’s CSA Z1000, and the ILO’s OHSMS guidelines. There is even talk of OSHA’s VPP getting more aligned to the ISO 45001 Standard. So you can see a definite trend emerging when it comes to SMS.
So, in 2018, knowing ISO 45001 was coming, the National Safety Council (NSC) started investigating all the common SMS frameworks and identifying all of the things they had in common. They recognized many companies were getting bogged down with questions such as: What is a safety management system? How can it help me? Which framework is right for my business? How do I go about implementing an SMS? They knew the research supported the benefits of SMS implementation, but they wanted clarity on what that looked like and a simple way to illustrate what elements constitute a successful SMS.
So let’s break down what the core features or functions look like – an effective safety management system has the following features or functions:
- People – nothing gets implemented without people who are committed, engaged, and motivated; real safety change can’t happen without a competent, skilled workforce. You need the RIGHT people in the RIGHT position within the organization. It isn’t enough to have an incredibly motivated and engaged front-line if all or most of middle to upper management is not engaged or supportive. So you need to put the right people in the right places in the organization from top to bottom.
- Planning – thinking ahead is half the battle of implementation; planning for foreseeable risks and the administrative parts of a management system will produce smoother rollouts and better measurement of SMS success. You need to be able to break down the individual elements necessary, assess your current state, and measure any gaps. These gaps are the space in which you will work. You have to be good at evaluating current-state – I cannot stress that enough.
- Programs – most companies have EHS programs that identify and control most hazards, monitor and measure operational impacts to EHS performance, and eliminate deviations from the management system; individual programs must operate as part of the entire system, not independently. So think about machine safety; you will need a robust maintenance management program to fully achieve the level of machine safety required. This means measuring preventative maintenance work orders that are past due, identifying maintenance items that are not just critical to up-time, but also to safety, such as sensors, overflow preventers, valves that are identified as safety measures preventing disaster. So integrating safety with other areas of the business is critical.
- Progress – to avoid complacency, companies need to periodically measure compliance with regulatory and legal requirements, audit their SMS system, and review SMS performance with upper management. So you need to be able to break down all the pieces of the SMS into logical parts. Like Electrical, Confined Spaces, PPE, and even roles and responsibilities as well as frequent inspections required. I recommend identifying champions for each element and have them “own” that part of the audit. They need to objectively score the organization’s effectiveness of the execution of each element. Get folks from outside the safety function to drive buy-in and accountability and should be an annual thing, but you can break out each element and cover some monthly. Whatever works for your organization.
- Performance – measures of performance need to be set and include both lagging indicators and leading indicators and moving toward predictive measures; adopting these and evaluating safety metrics among the entire business performance landscape helps companies solidify safety on equal footing with other critical operational practices – adopting a mindset of “safe operations” versus viewing safety apart from operations. So instead of asking how safety performance is doing, measure overall business performance with safety as a part of the overall measurement score. So if production was up, but incidents were as well, then there should be an adjustment made to the productivity score as a result – make sense? Again, this gets us past the whole conversation of looking at WIP, deliveries, and sales together and safety separately – safety performance impacts the others.
The challenge for many safety pros is identifying the tools one can use to manage all of these moving parts. I will tell you that you need to look into a digital safety management system, like iReportSource.
Whatever you tool you use, you have to make sure you can efficiently stay on top of all of these different elements; be able to report, and have others report, the necessary information so the organization can work to reduce hazards; record and track all of the activities associated with those efforts – that make them work; have access to all of the data when needed to make smarter decisions; be able to look back so you can assess your progress objectively and plan for future improvements. I call these the 4 R’s:
- Report: Hazards, concerns, incidents, suggestions, etc.
- Record: Training/qualifications, observations, inspections/audits, injuries/illnesses, environmental data, etc.
- Retrieve: Be able to produce reports and records when needed promptly.
- Review: Have the ability to look at all relevant data, so it tells the story of where you have been, what is taking place, and where you need to go in real-time and as efficiently as possible.
It gets difficult to impossible to do this manually in most organizations of considerable size or with complex processes. So again, consider looking into a system to help you manage safety more efficiently and pays you back in time and frustration so you can get out from behind the desk and spend it where it matters most; out with your people where the work happens.
Once again, a safety management system is a continuous improvement process that reduces hazards and prevents incidents. It protects the health and safety of your employees and is integrated into everyday processes throughout the organization. Investing in an SMS makes a measurable impact on your bottom line and can be viewed as a competitive advantage.