Why Safety Management System is Important

“A robust Safety Management System and Program benefits everyone, the

Company, the Employees, the Stakeholders and the Regulators”

Safety Management System is a continuous improvement process that decreases  hazards and prevents incidents. It defends the health and safety of our workers and should be integrated into everyday processes throughout the organization. Investing in Safety Management System makes a measurable impact on our bottom line and can be viewed as a competitive advantage. The adoption of an SMS framework and thoughtful implementation of the various sides can have significant impact on protecting workers and enhancing our organization’s performance and profitability. While safety requirements may differ across businesses, exemplary organizations all focus on continuous improvement that aims for an ongoing reduction of risk with a goal of zero incidents.

As we know that the new international voluntary standard for safety management systems, ISO 45001, was on the horizon, NSC started investigating all the prevalent Safety Management System frameworks and identifying commonalities. We recognized many companies were getting 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 a Safety Management System?
  • We knew the research supported the benefits of SMS implementation, but we sought clarity on what that looked like and a simple way to illustrate what elements constitute a successful SMS.

5 P’s for Effective Safety Management System:

  • People – Nothing gets implemented without people who are committed, engaged, and motivated; real safety change can’t happen without a competent, skilled workforce
  • Planning – Thinking ahead is half the battle of implementation; planning for foreseeable risks and the administrative parts of a management system will yield smoother rollouts and foster measurement of SMS success
  • Programs – Most sites have EHS programs that identify and control 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
  • Progress – To avoid complacency, sites need to periodically measure their compliance with regulatory and legal requirements, audit their SMS system, and review SMS performance with upper management
  • Performance – Measures of performance need to be set and include both lagging indicators and leading indicators; adopting leading indicators and evaluating safety metrics among the entire business performance metric landscape helps companies solidify safety on equal footing with other key operational practices – adopting a mindset of “safe operations” versus viewing safety apart from operations.

What is benefits of Safety Management System?

            Benefits of a Safety Management System

  1. Reduced organizational administrative expenses
  2. Enhanced reputation within your company for workers, the clients, customers and stakeholders
  3. Improve regulatory compliance requirement local as well as international.
  4. Improved worker performance
  5. Increased cost to purchase safety equipment.
  6. Reduce recurring cost regarding illness and injury
  7. Reduce incident and accident ratio happened at site.  
  8. Improved relations with OSHA and other associated agencies
  9. Better staff relations and commitment within the company.
  10. Everyone is on the same page about safety.
  11. Other businesses like Safety precaution may learn how they can do better.
  12. Improving Safety is usually a competitive advantage, because of best safety implementing procedure and work instruction.
  13. The potential for reduced insurance and liability costs
  14. Optimistic employee impacts and protection of worker health

How can Implement of Safety Management System?

There are so many aspects to creating and maintaining a safe working environment that sometimes it’s easy to get lost in it all. To truly succeed in creating a safe place of work, the key is to develop and implement an effective safety management system.

         Commitment of Senior Management. 

Start up these systems takes between 1 to 2 years and it could be another 1 and half year before you start to see results. Senior Management Commitment is indispensable to keep the project progress.

  1. Audit Safety Procedures and Practices;

Against those that will be required under the standard, so you know what to concentration on first.

  1. Set up an Implementation Team 

Comprise executing team to emphasis on the project and keep it moving

  1. Make sure Roles& Responsibilities and Time lines are outlined and tracked.

Executing team roles and responsibility mentioned and shared with team with specified time frame to determine project progress.

  1. Get your employees involved 

By offering basic and advanced training, develop communication skill and incentives to accomplish project target within specified time period.

  1. Review Safety Management System 

Management review continuously to improve and manage progress report.

The job of a safety management system:

  •  Identify safety risks and hazards
  • Try to Stop workplace health and safety incidents
  • Quick respond & reply to such incidents
  • Report and document such incidents
  • Prevent future incidents from happening

How organizations benefit financially

Through a successfully implemented SMS, organizations will allow better compliance with regulations and other requirements that in turn minimizing adverse result of an event. Additionally, it will allow employees and workers to identify potential hazards that may endanger their health and safety. More importantly, SMS will have positive impacts on staff by creating trusts, increased morale which leads into better performance. SMS will help an organization to prevent catastrophic accidents making it safer and therefore attracts more clients which in turn benefiting it financially.

However, in the case of doing nothing or unsuccessful implementation of SMS can lead into experiencing a loss, or critically assesses for both direct and indirect costs of an incidence. These consequences are unlikely to be appreciated and usually the worse scenarios are the indirect costs as they are more difficult to assess, these are often not covered or fully compensated by the company’s insurance. This includes items as;

  1. Loss of business and reputation
  2. Legal fees and damage claims
  3. Medical costs not covered by workers’ compensation
  4. Cost of lost use of equipment’s (loss of income)
  5. Time list by injured persons and cost of replacement workers
  6. Increased insurance premiums
  7. Fines and reputation damage

What are Benefits of Safety Management System?

  1. Improved health and safety performance
  2. Reduced cost associated with accidents and incidents
  3. Improved staff relations and morale
  4. Improve business efficiency
  5. Improved public image and public relation
  6. Lower insurance premiums
  7. Easier access to finance
  8. Increased regulatory compliance
  9. Boost corporate and social responsibility
  10. Improved confidence                                                                                   


    History of Safety Management System:

It is valuable to briefly describe the history of Safety Management System to understand ARPANSA’s aims and objectives in promoting Holistic Safety.

What should be clear from the following is how the overall aim to improve safety and prevent accidents has influenced how safety management is applied and what approach is adopted. This can even be traced back to the second millennium BC, where Babylonian King Hammurabi set laws to execute masons whose constructed houses fell and killed the owners or occupants.

First age of safety management — the technology

The first age of safety started with the Industrial Revolution in 1750-1760 and the invention of the steam engine.

Most accidents were from the technology failing, injuring workers and the public. The focus of safety management was to ensure the technology was safe to use.

‘if the technology is safe, then we will be safe’.

This view of safety management became part of what known as the ‘technical age’ or the age of the technology.

This technical age saw improvements in the ability to identify the ‘broken part’—the part of the technology that failed—and avoid single component failures. Sophisticated techniques (such as probabilistic risk assessment) for managing risky technology were developed for this purpose.

Technological failures, problematic for so long, could now be ‘engineered out of the system’. This is what most people thought until the meltdown of the Three Mile Island reactor (TMI).

The accident came as a surprise to engineers and managers. Despite all the risk assessments and technological safety features, the reactor nevertheless melted down. The President’s Commission into TMI found the causes to be “people-related problems and not equipment problems”.

As hardware and software had become increasingly more reliable, the human contribution to accidents had become ever more apparent.

In response, it was necessary for the focus of safety management to expand so that the human element (the human factor)—as well as the technology—was addressed thus creating the second age of safety management—the human factors age.

Second age of Safety Management System — the human

This age of safety management expanded to focus on the human (human performance) as well as technology.

Systems were designed to be human error tolerant so neither human action nor single faults would result in accidents. Much of this work focused on man-machine interfaces and workspace layout.

‘if the human is safe, then we will be safe’

This view of safety management continued until accidents such as the Challenger space shuttle accident and Chernobyl reactor meltdown. Safety practitioners were again required to rethink their approach to managing safety. More than simply technical faults or human error, the Presidential Commission into Challenger found a “propensity within management to contain potentially serious problems”.

The IAEA reported similar findings and provided recommendations that addressed more than simply the technology or the people operating the reactor.

“creation and maintenance of a nuclear safety culture”

These accidents and others (such as the crash of Air Ontario Flight 1363 and the Exxon Valdez oil spill) sparked another paradigm shift in safety management. No longer was it enough to simply focus on the technology or the human. Organizational factors (such as management and safety culture) also needed to be addressed to maintain safe operations.

Third age of Safety Management System — the Organization

This age of safety management expanded to focus on the organization as well as the human and technology.

Safety Management in this organizational age saw human error and technical failures more therefore than a cause. Errors were viewed as the ‘tip of the iceberg’ for more serious latent conditions and problems higher up in the organization e.g. poor leadership for safety or safety culture.

Without removing these problems and others existing higher up in the organization, failures at the ‘sharp-end’ would continue e.g. without removing the ‘parent problems’, ‘progeny’ errors and technical failures will continue to appear. New Safety Management models and assessments appeared which enabled safety managers to find and then remove weaknesses higher up in the in the organization (e.g. safety culture or climate surveys) that could lead to serious accidents in the future.

‘if the organization is safe, then we will be safe’.

This view continued until accidents such as the 2003 Columbia Space Shuttle disaster. More than simply isolated failures at the organizational level or clear human and technological failures, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) found causes in the complex and interdependent interactions of the technology, human and organization present at the time of the accident.

‘systems fail in complex ways’

By trying to accurately describe this complexity, the CAIB considered that control measures could be better designed to prevent such accidents happening again.

This accident and others sparked another paradigm shift in safety management. No longer was it enough to simply focus on technological, human and organizational factors in isolation. The complex interaction and interdependency also needs to be described, signaling the birth of the current age of safety management—the holistic or systems age.

Fourth age of safety management — the Holistic age

This holistic approach aims to understand the complexity of day-to-day work by describing the often-complex interrelationships and interdependencies between the technology, human and organization.

This allows the description of the organization to more closely reflect the true reality today’s work which can often be complex e.g. people working together using complex technology across multiple locations and divisions within the organization.

Without using this Holistic Safety approach, we are effectively only seeing part of the picture, or only a few pieces of the ‘puzzle’.

Adopting the holistic approach means seeing more clearly how each piece of the puzzle fits in, affects, and is and dependent upon other pieces.

This not only provides a more complete or ‘real’ picture of the context but also means control measures and steps taken will be both more efficient and effective at avoiding accidents. This is different to the other ages of safety where:

  1. isolated or component failures are identified e.g. blaming the person last in line of the accident ‘chain’—people at the ‘sharp-end’
  2. identifying upstream, contextual factors as erroneous (e.g. poor safety culture) without actually describing why they appear.

How to Conduct Safety Management System Audit?

SMS auditing is a systematic method to evaluate a company’s Safety Management System. Auditing should cover the entire safety management system, that is, all the activities aiming to ensure adequate control of the hazards affecting people, property or the environment.

 The two main tasks of auditing are:


  1. Compliance verification to establish whether the relevant legal requirements are met,
  2. Validation to see whether the correct types of methods are in use, and whether they are effectively implemented.

Safety auditing is one part of the company’s general management activities and is a similar procedure to the auditing of quality and environmental management systems. Several methods, or tools have been developed for supporting safety auditing.

Typically, these methods are checklists of the activities to be assessed. Some methods also have criteria for the assessment, as well as a scoring system which produces a numerical estimate of the safety activity level.

 Aim of Audit:

The aim of these safety audit methods is to help the company’s management systematically follow the overall progress in safety control. Audit results should be reliable which means that different auditors should come to the same conclusions. In addition, reliability determines the upper limit for the validity.

This work concentrates on evaluating the reliability of some safety audit tools.

 Firstly, the factors affecting reliability in auditing are clarified.

 Secondly, the inter-observer reliability of one of the audit tools is tested. This was done using an audit method, known as the D&S method,

 Six industrial companies in the USA, and in three companies in Finland.

Finally, a new improved audit method called MISHA was developed and its reliability was tested in two industrial companies.

The results of the work show that safety audit tools are helpful during the safety audit process, but do not ensure reliable and valid audit results.

 Role of Auditor:

The role of the auditor is always essential in safety auditing. The auditor’s expertise in the field of health and safety is particularly important when the company’s compliance with the legal requirements is evaluated. The case studies showed that a reasonably high reliability in the use of the D&S can be achieved when the auditor is familiar with the audit tool, the national legislation, and the company’s culture. The reliability decreases when the auditor is less familiar with the audit method, or the local conditions. The D&S method is a very rough method, and it does not help the auditor to assess the individual safety activities very thoroughly. This means that there is a lot of space for the expertise of the auditor. The D&S method also suggests certain activities which may not always be the most suitable solutions for every company.

In many cases, the company can arrange its activities in another way, but equally effectively. Also, it was noticed that the D&S method needs updating. For example, some criteria of the of the D&S method are very easy to meet. The method could be improved by giving less weight to areas like fire control and industrial hygiene control, and by focusing more attention to areas like follow-up and auditing.

MISHA method developed in this work is slightly differently constructed to the D&S method. MISHA has more activities to be assessed and also more specific evaluation criteria than the D&S method.

 Comparison D&S and MISHA audit method

The reliability testing revealed that MISHA gives more reliable results than D&S when the auditor is not trained. On the other hand, it seems that the D&S is more reliable when the auditor is a trained expert. The validity of D&S and MISHA were not statistically tested. This was solely because it is difficult to determine such safety outcomes that would relate or correlate with each safety activity of the audit tool. Accident statistics, for example, do not provide enough data for validity studies. Some differences were found between the companies in the USA and in Finland. The results of the assessments indicated that the organization and administration of safety activities was at a somewhat higher level among the companies in the USA. Industrial hazard control, as well as the control of fire hazards and industrial hygiene were at a high level in all companies in both countries. Most dispersion occurred in supervision, participation, motivation, and training activities. Finally, accident investigation and analysis were significantly better arranged among the companies in the USA. The results are in line with the findings of the literature survey carried out in the theoretical part of the work.


  1. Billings, E, C .(1997).Aviation automation: the search for a human centered approach. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
  2. Stolzer, A. J., Halford, C. D., & Goglia, J. J. (2008).Safety Management Systems in Aviation, Burlington: Ashgate
  3. Hopkin, D., & Garland, J. D. (2010).Handbook of aviation human factors (2nd ed.),Boca Raton: CRC Press

 Want to know more?


SMS public website designed by FAA for those who are keen to learn more on SMS


Global aviation site for courses offered on SMS should you wish to attend to learn more


NZ CAA website; an excellent example for designing SMS policies for your organisation


ICAO best site which provides resources for all States in the area of SMS


An excellent website that will guide you through several Phases on how the SMS requirements will be met and integrated to the organization’s work activities, as well as an accountability framework for the implementation of the SMS



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