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Safety Management Systems: 3 Things to Know


Before you dive into implementing a safety management system, make sure you know the basics.

All companies, regardless of size or industry, can benefit from implementing a safety management system (SMS). Starting the process is probably the most challenging aspect of a SMS, but if you're informed and plan well, company leaders can find ways to help their business transition to an improved way of managing safety.

What should you know before you begin a safety management system?

1. You probably have an informal SMS right now.

Part of your daily operations include OSHA compliance essentials such as safety policies, employee training and hazard assessments. These are also elements of safety management systems. But what may be lacking in your company is a formal, documented process to guide your safety program, which is what a SMS provides. For example, in companies without a dedicated SMS, each safety compliance element might function independently or without oversight. Worker training is provided, but employees may lack procedures to protect them from job-related hazards. Risks may be assessed, but without triaging of hazards or follow-up to ensure corrections. Improvements in safety may occur, but there aren’t metrics or plans to ensure continuous improvements. The safety management system ties up these loose ends and gives your company goals and structure for safety and health.

2. It may be difficult to align with other systems right out of the gate.

Integrating the SMS with other management system standards, such as ISO 9001 (quality) or ISO 14001 (environmental), or applying your SMS to OHSAS 18001 (health and safety), may be the ultimate company destination, but the journey isn’t always easy and it takes preparation.

While each system is designed to be compatible with the other, each covers different business risks. The purpose of OHSAS 18001 is to control safety and health risks, and to provide an outline for managing the company’s safety and health program, but it does not mandate the design of the management system. To create your SMS under OHSAS 18001 means relying on the availability and expertise of your employees to write the appropriate documentation, conduct analysis and develop other aspects of the system.

But relying on your team to develop your SMS begins with a deep understanding of OSHA standards, as well as risks associated with your industry and specific company. From that point, the SMS builds on existing processes. It’s difficult to create a system if you don’t understand the mechanics of each component. That may mean focusing on compliance and gaining knowledge of safety and health requirements, prior to jumping into integration with other systems.

3. Change is always painful. Expect it and plan accordingly.

Shifts in operations or structure can be unsettling for employees. Transitioning your safety program to a SMS represents a new and different way to operate. Under a SMS, everyone has a role in company safety. While implementation can be an exciting and positive change for your company, expect roadblocks and unforeseen pains as people learn new ways to view workplace safety and assume greater responsibilities.

You can minimize the barriers if you plan well and provide top-down leadership support. Showing how a SMS will benefit your company through training and awareness can help bring people on board, and increase success of your program.

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The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.

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