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Course 716 - Safety Management System Evaluation

Safety guides and audits to make your job as a safety professional easier

Analyzing the SMS


Identify and analyze the data to improve the SMS.

Improving the SMS is one of the most important safety staff activities. Actually, as in-house consultants, it's the most important goal. To do this, we first need to identify what we have. Next we need to compare what we have with what we know works best. Once we have this information, we can then make improvements. In this module, we'll study the general steps in the SMS analysis and evaluation process.

Not knowing why things get better or worse is always a problem for a business. If it gets better "for no reason," later it will probably get worse "for no reason." "The point is, it's not enough to know that something works. It is vitally important to know why it works.

(Aubrey Daniels, Bringing Out The Best in People, p. 14)

Check out this short audio clip by Dan Clark of the Safety managers, ATTENTION! Check hazards, provide safety training, and ensure proper use of PPE.

1. As in-house consultants, the most important goal of the safety department is to _____.

a. ensure total compliance for safety
b. improve the safety management system
c. enforce safety throughout the organization
d. keep the company's OSHA citations at a minimum

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Step One: Analyze the System with a Baseline Survey

The baseline survey tells you where you're at right now.

Webster defines the term, analysis as, "the breaking down of the whole into its constituent parts to determine their nature." In this first step, the objective is to determine the status of the system by determining which components of the SMS are currently in place. We want to know what programs we have, and what programs we don't have.

To do this, conduct an initial comprehensive baseline SMS survey. This baseline survey examines the entire SMS to determine current in-place system components. System components include safety programs, plans, policies, processes, procedures, practices, people involved, and the performance measures. In this course, we'll refer to these system components as well as others.

Bottom line, if a program doesn't exist, we may have a system design problem. If the program does exist, but isn't performing well, we may have a system performance problem. To determine this, we need to conduct system evaluation.

2. To get a better idea of what the SMS looks like, it's a good idea to conduct an initial _____.

a. job hazard analysis
b. behavior-based safety audit
c. walkaround inspection
d. baseline survey

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Step Two: Narrow the Focus - Analyze each SMS Component

Surveys and interviews are effective ways to determine the current status of the SMS.

Conducting a baseline survey and basic audit of the SMS tells us what the system generally looks like, but it does not tell us enough about why the system is working or not.

We need to "dissect" each program within the system through more focused surveys, interviews, observations, inspections and audits to examine each component.

It's important to understand that we need to analyze all apparent positive and negative effects uncovered to know why programs are effective as well as why they are not.

If a particular program doesn't exist or isn't performing well, it can (and probably will) affect other programs in the SMS. We need to take a closer look at each program by conducting a focused analysis of each SMS program.

To do this, we can use a number of tools such as:

  • Employee surveys sample a population of employees to identify what they think, feel and believe about the safety program.
  • Employee interviews of individual employees to identify more specifically what they think, feel, and believe.
  • Workplace inspections identify existing workplace conditions. As an example, safety committees are required to conduct workplace inspections to identify hazards.
  • Workplace observations identify existing employee behaviors and activities. For example, employees might make a certain number of safety observations each month and report their results for analysis.
  • Program audits analyze the design and performance of plans, policies, processes, procedures, practices, and people within each program. For instance, safety committees can use the audit process to analyze and evaluate the company's accountability system.

3. This very important process is effective in finding out what employees think, feel, and believe about the quality of safety in the organization.

a. Investigation
b. Safety committee panel
c. Employee survey
d. Program audit

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Step Three: Conduct Cause Analysis

You must analyze the surface symptoms to discover the underlying root causes.

We can arrange the causes of accidents into four basic categories: unpreventable acts, hazardous conditions, unsafe/inappropriate behaviors, and system design/performance weaknesses. Studies are all over the map as to the specific percentages for each cause category, so we will generalize the degree to which each category causes accidents in the workplace.

  1. Unpreventable acts: A very small percentage of all workplace accidents are thought to be unpreventable. Heart attacks and other events that could not have been known by the employer are examples of unpreventable acts. Unfortunately, some companies try to place most of their injuries into this category. They justify these beliefs with such comments as: "He just lifted the box wrong and strained his back. What could we do?" Unfortunately, they are excuses for not looking into the "root cause" of the injury.
  2. Hazardous conditions (surface symptoms): Hazardous conditions (OSHA violations) account for a larger percentage, but well under 50% of all accidents. They represent the symptoms pointing to root causes. Because OSHA rules primarily address preventing hazardous conditions in the workplace with rules, those rules do not have a big impact on decreasing accidents. Rules influence, but may not successfully control or eliminate the role of human factors in causing accidents. For instance, employers and employees may choose to can comply with or ignore safety rules.
  3. Unsafe behaviors (surface symptoms): Inappropriate or unsafe employer/employee behaviors, by far, represent the most common surface causes for accidents in the workplace. Behaviors are also the symptoms of deeper underlying root causes. Unsafe behaviors may cause accidents whether workplace conditions are safe or unsafe. Estimates for this category typically range from 80-95%.
  4. System design/performance weaknesses - (root causes): SMS failures contributing to workplace accidents ultimately account for almost all workplace accidents. System management and leadership failures refer to the inadequate design or performance of safety policies, programs, written plans, processes, procedures, practices, rules, training, resources, enforcement, and supervision.

4. Which of the following accident cause categories was shown to result in almost all workplace accidents?

a. Hazardous conditions
b. System failures
c. Unsafe behaviors
d. Unpreventable acts

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Surface Symptoms

How many surface symptoms can you see here?

The information uncovered by the baseline surveys and focused program analysis will include:

  • individual thoughts, opinions, and beliefs about safety
  • feelings about the safety culture, leadership, and management
  • safe and hazardous conditions
  • safe and unsafe behaviors

As we mentioned earlier, these surface causes also represent the surface symptoms giving clues about underlying root causes. The conditions and behaviors you see are merely the effects of these underlying causes.

Symptoms are observable, measurable, unique conditions and behaviors. Again, this is important: They represent the effects of less obvious root causes. Remember, every effect has a cause! To eliminate the visible surface symptoms or effects, we need to accurately diagnose and treat the underlying root causes.

5. The surface symptoms uncovered during a baseline survey will give important clues about _____.

a. the employees to blame
b. their underlying root causes
c. who is lacking common sense
d. the amount of money being spent on safety

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Underlying Root Causes

Missing or inadequate policies, programs, plans, processes, and procedures are all root causes for accident.

Analysis of the information gathered by the baseline survey and program analysis will also identify possible underlying root causes for the symptoms described above. We will find programs or parts of programs may be missing parts or nonexistent.

System Design Weaknesses

Design weaknesses are basically a failure to plan the work. They describe the overall "condition" of the SMS. They also represent the "deep" root causes for the symptoms above.


  • Missing or inadequate policies, plans, programs, processes, procedures
  • Missing or inadequate resources - money, time, people, materials, etc.

The resulting effects of a system that is not designed adequately are system performance failures.

System Performance Weaknesses

Performance weaknesses describe a failure to work the plan. The system fails to "behave" properly. The system's behavior is a function of the performance of the people within the system.


  • Failure to effectively accomplish safety policies, plans, processes, procedures or practices. For instance, supervisors may not be performing safety inspections as required.
  • Failure to provide training, resources, enforcement, supervision, and leadership. For example, although it's required by the training plan, written tests are not being administered during lockout/tagout training.

Do you see why conducting the baseline survey and program analysis is so important? These processes are capable of providing a wealth of valuable data that can help safety staff develop solutions and make recommendations that can dramatically improve employee safety. Once again, we cannot emphasize enough how important to understand every cause has an effect. What you see are the effects. What you must uncover are the hidden root causes.

Bottom line Idea: If you deal with the causes, the symptoms do not arise.

6. Failure to conduct safety inspections as required is a good example of _____.

a. a direct root cause weakness
b. an indirect surface cause weakness
c. a SMS performance weakness
d. a SMS design weakness

Check your Work

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This video is kicking off a new Provoking Safety series titled, Safety Programs Explained. Kevin takes you through the different intricacies, dynamics, terms and components of health and safety programs and management systems from policy all the way through to program review and revision.

Chesapeake Employers’ Safety Services Supervisor, Howard Thomas, guides viewers through the 10 steps to creating a workplace safety program based on best practices. This webinar is a companion to “Safety 201: The Importance of Building a Strong Workplace Safety Culture.”

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