Health and Safety Management Systems

It is a legal requirement for companies to have formal Safety Management System (SMS) in place. However, it should be remembered that the extent and complexity of an SMS will depend upon a number of factors. For example, a garage with three or four employees, carrying out mechanical repairs and servicing of cars, will only require a basic management system. On the other hand, an oil and gas production company, with over 10000 employees, will require something much more formal and much more intricate.

The Basic Elements of a Safety Management System

Regardless the size of the company, or the nature of work that is carried out, there are five basic requirements of a Safety Management System: policy; organisational competence; planning through risk assessment; monitoring performance; and review.


Every company should set out its policy for ensuring the health, safety and welfare of its employees. Often called a ‘Statement of Intent’ this is a document that business owners or senior executives commit to. The Statement of Intent should contain more than one single statement; instead it should have several paragraphs that clearly demonstrate management have accepted their responsibilities for employee safety.

Statements about safe working methods, use of safe equipment, providing proper personal protective equipment, and training are all important aspects of the policy.

Organisational Competence

How do employees get training in the tasks that are being undertaken? What type of safety training is available to employees? How are employees inducted into the company? What about fire evacuation and fire safety awareness training? These are all important topics to ensure that employees remain safe and healthy at work. Every company should identify exactly what is needed in terms of training, and should identify how employees will get this training. It is common for a ‘competence matrix to be drawn up. This is simply a document that has the names of all employees down the left, and the training they require across the top.

The competence matrix can be used as a planning and budgeting tool. Courses for employees can be scheduled, with any refresher training identified on the matrix.

Planning and Risk Assessment

Risk assessment is fundamentally important in modern health and safety management. It doesn’t have to be complicated, in fact the best risk assessments are those that are kept simple. Risk assessment is a planning tool, which looks at the hazards involved in doing a task and considers the risks from those hazards. Once hazards and risks have been identified, additional control measures can be put in place. Control measures may consist of: procedures to do the job; guarding on machinery; inspections of hand tools and other equipment; personal protective equipment such as hard hats, boots and goggles; and of course, training.

Monitoring Performance

Regular safety inspections are an essential component of the Safety Management System. Safety inspections, which should be carried out monthly, are aimed at spotting unsafe conditions and unsafe practices. Unsafe conditions are those that present a hazard in the workplace, for example, poor housekeeping, unguarded equipment, blocked fire exits. Unsafe practices are those that involve the way people work, for example, using an item of equipment without the appropriate personal protective equipment, smoking in undesignated areas.


At least annually, the entire Safety Management System should be reviewed, together wilth all the risk assessments and safety inspections that were carried out during the year. By carefully analysing risk assessments and the findings from inspections, recurring problem areas can be spotted and lessons can be learned for the future.

Like any other management system, the SMS needs to be kept simple and practical. By committing time and effort to developing and implementing a suitable SMS, accidents and injury can be kept to a minimum.

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