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Topic - Elements of a Safety Management System

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Elements of a Safety Management System (SMS)

There are probably as many different types of safety management systems as there are businesses. An integrated Safety and Health Program is a systems approach for identifying, evaluating, analyzing, and controlling workplace safety and health hazards. This includes developing systematic policies, procedures, and practices fundamental to creating and maintaining a safe and healthy working environment. The Oregon OSHA Safety and Health Program model, which I believe is very effective, contains seven elements.

Element One: Management Commitment

The manager's attitude toward safety and health is reflected in everything said and done: every decision made and action taken. Employees respond positively to tough-caring leadership. The manager demonstrates touch-caring leadership by insisting on high standards to keep everyone injury-free.

Your commitment to protect employees from workplace dangers is reflected in all aspects of your safety and health program, but nowhere more than in its design and performance. To leave no doubt about your personal convictions that the subject is every bit as important as productivity and quality, you must integrate safety and health with these other business functions. In fact, it's important to eliminate the thought that safety is a separate function. To be most effective, the production/service process must be a safe to limit the variables that increase production/service costs.

The following kinds of actions will show (teach) employees that you are serious about creating and maintaining a safe and healthful workplace:

  • Set measurable objectives and goals for safety and health in the same way objectives for other business functions such as sales or productivity are set.
  • Assign safety and health responsibilities to staff, just as production responsibilities are assigned.
  • Hold supervisors and employees accountable for their safety and health responsibilities.
  • Allocate sufficient company resources.
  • Establish clear lines of communication by which employees tell of their safety and health concerns;
  • Take every opportunity to let employees know of your concern.
  • Set a good example! If, for instance, a requirement for hard hats to be worn in a specific area is present, you will wear a hard hat in that area.

Once management and the employees accept safety and health as essential parts of the daily business operations, a solid foundation for an effective workplace safety and health program will have been laid. From that point on, continual evidence of your concern is a primary factor in maintaining an effective program. Both employees and managers will benefit from reduced injuries and fewer lost working hours.

Element Two: Accountability

Effective accountability links the performance of responsibilities to effective consequences. As a business owner or manager, you are responsible for making your business a successful one. "Passing the buck" isn't an option. When Harry Truman said, "The buck stops here," he meant that he was responsible for his decisions and he accepted the consequences that followed them.

Accountability also helps your employees understand that you're committed to achieving and maintaining a safe, healthful workplace. It reinforces the importance of the program and ensures that, when it comes to working safely, no one can "pass the buck."

Here are four ways to strengthen accountability:

  • Employees' written job descriptions clearly state their safety and health responsibilities.
  • Employees have enough authority, education, and training to accomplish their responsibilities.
  • Employees are praised for jobs well done.
  • Employees who behave in ways that could harm them or others are appropriately disciplined.

The keys to appropriate discipline: be sincere, don't threaten, and have no hidden agendas.

Element Three: Employee involvement

Effective safety and health programs involve employees who have a stake in the program's success. One of the best ways to involve employees is through a safety committee: a group of employees representing labor and management, and responsible for promoting workplace safety and health.

The following are other examples of employee involvement in your safety and health program:

  • You promote the program, and employees know that you're committed to a safe, healthful workplace.
  • Employees help you review and improve the program.
  • Employees take safety education and training classes. They can identify hazards and suggest how to eliminate or control them.
  • Employees volunteer to participate on the safety committee.

Element Four: Hazard Identification and Control

Hazard identification and control is a vital element in the program. It is a system to identify any existing or potential dangers in the workplace, then following through to eliminate or control them. If hazardous conditions occur, or reoccur (the effect), there is a breakdown somewhere in safety management system (the root cause).

Correcting or controlling dangers can be accomplished in a variety of ways. However, to work properly, hazard identification and control must have the following components:

  • An initial danger identification survey;
  • A system for danger identification (such as inspections at regular intervals);
  • An effective system for employees to report conditions which may be dangerous (such as a safety committee or a safety representative);
  • An equipment and maintenance program;
  • A system for review or investigation of workplace accidents, injuries and illnesses;
  • A system for initiating and tracking danger corrective actions; and
  • A system for periodically monitoring the place of employment.

Element Five: Incident/Accident Analysis

Despite your best efforts, you may not be able to prevent all workplace incidents (non-injury events) and accidents. Most incidents and accidents are the result of preventable, but underlying safety management system design and/or performance failures (root causes). Examples include one or more of the following five poorly designed or performed system components:

  1. leadership by example
  2. management of resources and psycho-social support
  3. enforcement of safety policies and rules
  4. supervision of work
  5. safety training

By focusing on determining the root causes (system failures) for incidents and accidents, you reduce the chance that they'll happen again. Here are two ways to strengthen the incident/accident analysis procedure:

  • Find out the underlying root causes of accidents and near-miss incidents.
  • Do not "investigate" to fix blame. That's not a consideration.
  • Involve your safety committee in analyzing the causes of accidents and near-miss incidents.

Element Six: Educating and training

Your employees need to know about the workplace hazards to which they may be exposed, how to recognize the hazards, and how to control their exposure. The best way for them to gain this knowledge is through education and training. Why education and training? Education teaches why safe practices and procedures are important; education affects attitudes about safety and attitudes affect behavior. Training, on the other hand, improves skills necessary for working safely.

Employees should know safety and health rules, worksite hazards, safe work procedures, and what to do in emergencies. New-employee orientations, periodic safety and health training, and emergency drills build this knowledge. Supervisors and managers also need education and training: education to help them in their leadership roles and training to enhance their skills in identifying and controlling hazards.

Here are some examples that demonstrate you've educated and trained your employees about the importance of workplace safety and health:

  • Everyone is familiar with the workplace hazards could harm them.
  • Everyone knows how to control or eliminate their exposure to hazards.
  • Everyone knows how to perform their assigned tasks in a safe/appropriate manner.
  • Everyone understands their safety and health responsibilities.

Element Seven: Reviewing and evaluating

At least once a year, take time to review your program's strengths and weaknesses. You might want to begin by gathering the information that will help you accomplish the review. Review the past year's accident reports. You'll want to ask questions like:

  • Were the incident/accident analyses thorough?
  • Did they identify hazards and recommend how to control or eliminate them?
  • Have you acted on the recommendations?
  • Do workers need more training or education to enhance their knowledge and skills in these areas?

Listen to others. For example, ask employees about the hazards to which they're exposed. Are they controlling them properly and reporting new ones? Ask supervisors how they enforce safe work practices. Do they recognize jobs well done and know how to correct unsafe practices?

Review your role in the program. The program reflects how you manage workplace safety and health. If you're committed to a safe, healthful work-place, your employees will be, too.

How do you know your program is a successful one? Here are three examples:

  • You take time, periodically, to review your program's strengths and weaknesses.
  • You think about which elements make the program strong and which ones you need to build upon to make the program stronger.
  • You ask others - employees, supervisors, and managers - for information about the program's strengths and weaknesses. You address their concerns.