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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


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.

Step One: Analyze the System with a Baseline Survey

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 eight system components.

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.

Step Two: Narrow the Focus - Analyze each SMS Component

Conducting a baseline survey and basic audit of the SMS tells us what the system generally looks like, but 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 to 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 to identify existing workplace conditions. As an example, safety committees are required to conduct workplace inspections to identify hazards.
  • Workplace Observations to 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 to 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.

Step Three: Conduct Cause Analysis

What Causes Accidents?

According to analysis of injury date collected by Oregon's SAIF* Corporation, there are three general cause categories for workplace injuries:

  1. Unpreventable acts: Only two percent 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: Hazardous conditions (OSHA violations) account for only three percent of all workplace accidents. While OSHA rules are valuable, they cannot eliminate the role of human factors in causing accidents. People can interrupt, ignore or implement the rules.
  3. System failure: SMS failures account for at least 95 percent of all workplace accidents. System failures refer to inadequate design or performance of safety programs providing training, resources, enforcement, supervision, and leadership.
* Reference: SAIF Corporation - Loss Control Approach, Foundation, p. 9

Surface Symptoms

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

These 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.

Underlying Root Causes

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.

Generally, we'll uncover the following:

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. The system fails to "behave" properly. Let's take a look at system performance failures.

System Performance Weaknesses

Performance weaknesses describe a failure to work the plan.


  • 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.

Last words

That's it for Module 2. I hope the information in this module has given you a better understanding of the basic concepts of analysis and evaluation. Remember, it's all about fixing the system. In Module 3, we'll continue to discuss root cause analysis.


Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. This process breaks down the whole into its constituent parts to determine their nature.

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

3. Bottom line, if a program doesn't exist, we may have a _____ _____ problem.

4. If a program exists, but people are not following its guidelines, we may have a _____ _____ problem.

5. All of the following are mentioned as important methods to take a closer look at each SMS program, except _____.

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

7. Which of the following processes is used to take a close look at a safety program?

8. All of the following describe surface effects or symptoms, except _____.

9. Which of the following is not considered a root cause?

10. If you deal with the _____, the _____ do not arise.

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.