How to develop an effective safety management system by Mark Preston

Despite this many organisations still fail to adequately document their system or develop systems that are so complicated no-one bothers following them – the result is that health and safety is not managed effectively or understood by those who should be managing it. Typically, this means line managers.

The Health and Safety Executive says that any documented systems should be functional and concise with emphasis on their effectiveness rather than focusing too much on formal documentation. Formal documentation distracts from addressing the human elements of its implementation when the focus should not be the system but controlling the risks. However, you need to be able to provide evidence that you have been managing those risks.

The best systems are not complicated, they are ‘owned’ and understood by the employees who have to follow them and, crucially, are based on prioritised risks making them bespoke to the organisation itself.

Systems normally follow a structure that contains some key elements such as policy, risk assessments, management controls and monitoring and review processes.  Including a prioritised risk register helps focus minds on what is important when it comes to safety management.

Such priority is important to help make the system reflect the risks of the organisation. In reviewing and prioritising risks it is also key to not only look at accidents and incidents that have occurred in the organisation but also to get input from key staff who work at the sharp end of activities. A brainstorm with employees who feel confident in discussing potential issues freely is one way to help identify those risks that senior staff and even safety professionals may otherwise miss.

Safety Management System Structure

  • Safety policy
  • Prioritised risk register
  • Risk assessments
  • Risk control procedures
  • HSE guidance documents
  • Inspections
  • Review

Health issues such as stress (or well-being) and fatigue should be included in any risk review, and don’t forget risks that arise from company drivers. It is also the case that two of the biggest risks for any company are those of communication and monitoring. Ask these questions:

  1. Can we prove that we communicate risk assessments and control measures effectively, in a way that all staff understand?
  2. Can we prove that we effectively monitor control measures and take action were we find problems?

If you cannot answer these questions in a positive way then you need to look again at these issues.

Having identified such risks, the next stage is to develop a safety programme to establish and review risk control measures, ensuring such control measures are robust, understood by those who have to comply with them and are in place.

HSE guidance documents are available for almost all activities and will help identify what controls need to be in place. Critical elements of any system include management commitment and employee involvement. It is also vital that systems are simple enough to understand but comprehensive enough to be robust.

Ultimately, attitudes and behaviour of all staff, management and others will have an impact on whether the system is a success or not, so any audit or review of the system MUST include a review of those attitudes and behaviours. Whatever the methodology of the system is the key actions are always Plan-Do-Check-Act.

New sentencing guidelines are due to come into effect in the near future and it is generally expected that the number of prosecutions related to health and safety will increase dramatically along with levels of fines. Now is the right time to ensure you have a robust safety management system in place; one that effectively manages your health and safety risks, and one that can provide evidence of that effective management.

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