A Simple Safety Management System

A Simple Safety Management System

by the late George Robotham

George  was once asked to give recommendations on a simple Safety Management System for a small organisation that had “stuff all” in the way of safety, below is one of the most succinct, practical descriptions of a safety system I have come across. The only thing that I would add would be an overall SAFETY PLAN – a way to allocate responsibilities and resources to further develop, implement and monitor this Simple Safety Management System. (see George’s tips for developing and implementing a safety plan HERE)

George shares his many years of practical experience in regular articles we call “George’s Safety Reflections” SEE MORE OF GEORGE’S WORK HERE 

1. Compliance with the Statute Law

In Queensland the Workplace Health & Safety Act, Regulations and a number of Codes of Practice provide legislative guidance. The requirements of legislation represent the minimum standard that must be achieved. These provide worthwhile basic guidance for introduction of a successful Safety Management System. Senior management are particularly advised to refer to the new due diligence requirements. Managers and supervisors also need to be aware of the new due diligence requirement, new consultation requirements and new arrangements affecting non-permanent employees. Management and supervision will be trained in statutory requirements.

2. The Compliance with Common Law

There are four basic duties under common law :

A) To provide and maintain competent staff.

B) To provide and maintain a safe place of work.

C) To provide and maintain safe plant and appliances.

D) To provide and maintain a safe system of work * ( a system means generally the way things are done)

The above duties contain few words but the meaning is quite significant. The employer really has to do everything reasonably and practically that he can do. Many would suggest he then has to go a few extra steps. Managers and supervisors need to be trained in common law duties to fully realise the impact of this important area on how they manage safety.

3. Highly visible demonstrated commitment to health and safety on behalf of Senior Management

It is not unusual in companies with high profile safety management systems for senior and middle management personnel to spend over 30% of their time directly on OHS issues. Key personnel conduct safety meetings, they personally participate in safety inspections in their area of responsibility, they have safety as a first high-profile agenda item of every meeting they conduct and they make it clear that they expect those below them to place a high priority on safety. It is not enough for top management to be committed to safety; it must be a clear and high profile demonstration of commitment – you get the performance you demonstrate you expect. This is one area where positive action by management can have an overwhelming influence on the culture of the organisation.

4. Safety Committee

There should an employee / employer safety committee to recommend safety policy to management and to help implement policy agreed to by the management. Safety committees are much maligned. Safety committee members must be trained for their role and well supported by management. Giving the committee a substantial job to do helps to stop the whinging. Health & safety representatives must be appointed, trained and given the resources to carry out their duties.

5. Safety Meetings

Regular safety meetings coordinated by the supervisor are an ideal medium to transfer safety messages (studies have shown the significant effect supervisor communications can have on the workgroup).Refer to the Tool-box meetings paper by this author.

6. Safety as part of performance appraisal

During the performance appraisal of supervisory and management personnel an initial and high emphasis must be placed on safety. The focus should not be on what personal damage occurrences(accidents), have occurred in the supervisor’s workgroup, rather it should be on what he/she has done to introduce excellent safety programs.

7. Supervisors and employees must be trained and held accountable for safety

Subjects such as compliance with statute law, compliance with common law principles, hazard identification, risk management, hazard control, personal damage occurrences(accidents) investigation, and job safety analysis should be regarded as the basic skills and the knowledge for supervisors (their “tool-kit” of safety skills).

8. Risk Assessment

Risk assessment teams must be formed, trained and given the task of assessing the risks of your workplace.

9. Incident investigation

Formal incident investigation models e.g. “Analysis Reference Tree Trunk”, “Tripod” should be used to guide observations. Once personal damage occurrence investigations are carried out there must be formal methods of auditing the success of implementing recommendations. After detailed accident investigations it is surprising how many organizations never actually get around to implementing the recommendations.

10. Safety Inspections

Safety checklists tailored to the hazards of the area being inspected must be developed. Involvement of the workforce in actually carrying out the inspections is suggested.

11. Good housekeeping

Good housekeeping encourages better housekeeping, improves morale and generally makes for a better work environment. Good housekeeping is a place for everything and everything in its place.

12. Comprehensive induction program

Induction training must be tailored to the risks of the work environment. Essential subjects in the induction program e.g. isolation procedures can be revised on an annual basis through the safety meeting program. Refresher training on induction subjects must be tailored to employee needs not conducted because of stipulations for regular re-training.

13. Goals

Peter Drucker is reported to have said “What gets measured gets done” Zero permanently life-altering personal damage is a worthwhile annual goal.

14. Auditing

Organisations that are successful at Occupational Health and Safety have regular comprehensive internal and external audits. Auditors must receive training by authoritative training professionals, comprehensive auditing guidelines must be developed and formal processes introduced to follow-up on audit recommendations. After detailed audits it is surprising how many organizations never actually get around to implementing the recommendations.

15 Emergency Response Plans


Despite our best efforts it is possible that personal damage occurrences(accidents/incidents) will occur. It is essential to have plans to manage specific incidents. Incidents that require emergency response plans include

· Injury

· Fire

· Explosion

· Bomb threat

· Electrical outage

· Oil/fuel/chemical spill

· Gas leak

· Earth wall failure

· Radiation emergency

· Natural disaster

· Missing person

Emergency response plans should include provisions for Critical Incident Stress Debriefing.

The plans should be regularly practiced and audited.

16 Safety Learning

Every task that needs to be done by people must be done

· Safely

· Effectively

· At the right cost

· At the right quality

· In the right quantity

With appropriate consideration for people, for the community and for the Environment (Competency-Based Learning)

Detailed task analysis must take place to recognise the safety competencies required to perform all tasks (including supervisory) where gaps exist between required competencies and current competencies appropriate training may be the most appropriate solution. After people attend learning exercises the supervisor should develop a plan, in association with the trainee to implement the lessons learnt.

17 Quality Assurance

Utilise the advantages of a Quality Assurance approach to OHS without succumbing to the blind unthinking devotion to the Quality movement that is evident with some Quality Assurance practitioners. Quality Assurance can add some rigor to a safety management system provided it is not over-done

18 Group Approaches

There are ranges of group approaches that can successfully be used in improving safety. Well led, motivated and well researched groups can have tremendous synergy that will enhance your safety management system. The force-field analysis technique is particularly appropriate to use when commencing an OHS change project. Refer to the paper by this author.

19 Safety Procedures

The commonest mistake the author has seen with safety management systems is the development of extensive safety procedures that the workers do not know about, care about or use. The procedures sit on the supervisor’s bookcase or a computer program and are rarely referred to. The job safety analysis technique must be used to develop safe working procedures and involvement of the workforce is crucial. If your safe working procedures are over 2 pages in length worry about whether they will ever be used. Use flow-charts, pictures and diagrams in your safe working procedures and base them on a very basic level of English. The K.I.S.S. principles applies..

20 Communications

From the author’s studies of Management of Organisational Change he adopts a communications and management philosophy that “People Support What They Create”

While with B.H.P. the author worked with Professor T.J. Larkin of Harvard University analysing safety communications in the company. There were 3 main messages to come out of this research-

  1. Use face-to-face communications,
  2. Use the supervisor to communicate and
  3. Frame messages relevant to the immediate work area.

With written communications the author aims to be succinct, have an appropriate structure and utilise management summaries with major reports. He uses photographs, diagrams, flow-charts etc. to illustrate main points. Important written communications must always be followed up by a face-to-face meeting. The BHP guideline for general correspondence was that if it takes more than 2 pages to write it is too much for busy people to write and read. The world of safety is famous for well-meaning, ponderous, glossy publications that no one really knows about, cares about or uses. Safety communications are also famous for the use of “weasel-words”. “Weasel-words” promise a lot but deliver little.

Action and Experiential learning models must be used for communicating learning as opposed to lecture style presentations.

Professor T.J. Larkin says “If it is not face-to-face it is not communication”.

21 Building Trust

Introducing OHS change inevitably upsets the established order in organizations and forces people to question their existing role in the organization. Often people will be asked to do something that is different from the norm and to do that which they do not agree with. Persons introducing and leading OHS change must ensure they are trusted by those they are seeking to join them in the OHS change journey. Appropriate self-disclosure is an excellent technique for building relationships.

22 Well-Being programs

With an increasing realization of the importance of employee health to productivity many organisations are introducing Employee Wellness Programs. Many aspects of these programs have an excellent return from investment for the employer. The employer has to be careful where he invests his resources eg subsidized gym membership may be very popular with those who already go to a gym but may not encourage many new people to attend a gym. Lifestyle education programs appear to be beneficial.

23 Contractor safety programs

Australian business is out-sourcing more and more work. Contractors must develop and submit detailed Safety Management Plans including details on how they are going to carry out their work safely as part of the tendering process. This information must be pre-qualified as part of letting tenders. A contractors safety handbook and induction training program may be required.

24 OHS Policy

A dynamic policy statement that is freely distributed throughout the organisation, actually known by employees and actually referred to when making decisions about safety is required. What the policy says will happen must happen in the real world or cynicism will reign supreme. Traditional safety policies may be better replaced with statements of beliefs or values about safety that can be used as a basis of decision-making.

25. Role of the safety professional

Short-sighted companies think they employ safety people and these people will look after safety. The more progressive companies often do not have many dedicated OHS personnel, management and supervisors are so well trained and effective in safety that few dedicated safety personnel are required. Safety personnel should report to the senior officer so the function has some chance of being perceived as being of importance. The danger when you have too many safety people is that line management gets the safety people to manage safety not themselves. Safety is a line management function and safety personnel should be seen as specialist adviser

26 Leadership

Excellent safety management systems demand excellent safety leadership ,formal and informal leaders need to be trained in this. Safety management often requires unpopular decisions by leaders, do not shrink from demanding high safety standards from all those around you, take positive action with those who do not meet expectations.

27 Claims Management

Speedy and efficient claims processing and review of claims experience is important as is timely injury management. Rehabilitation programs can significantly reduce the period employees are on workers compensation. Early intervention, good communications between relevant parties, accurate functional capacity assessment, sensitive case management and a willingness to identify meaningful alternate duties seem to be the keys to success with rehabilitation.

28 Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)

Employees bring a whole range of problems to work that impact significantly on their ability to work safely & efficiently. EAP’s have proven their worth in many companies. It is suggested safety personnel and human resource management personnel have basic skills in counseling, in particular the skills of reflective listening are very appropriate.

29 Safety Incentives

Heresy and rumour says safety incentive schemes based on accident experience work. Despite wide reading on this topic the author has identified no robust empirical studies that prove this assertion (there is no shortage of emotional reports, with a poor statistical basis that indicate incentives work.) Public recognition from the boss for a job well done will always be appropriate. A recognition scheme that involves the good safety things that are being done is more appropriate than basing safety awards on accident statistics.

30 Get the right people

As with any aspect of management, OHS demands you have the right people. Motivated, caring and intelligent people, well led, can transform any organization. Detailed procedures must be put in place to select, recruit and retain quality people.


The above is quite a simple approach to OHS but detailed implementation of the above will achieve significant improvements. Listen to your people, make significant efforts to seek out their ideas on OHS, reduce the bull-dust that surrounds the safety effort, keep the lines of communication open, act upon good ideas, maintain a good sense of humour, show the troops you are fair-dinkum about safety, use the powerful influence front-line supervisors have on their employees and do not take yourself too seriously! Do not make the mistake of talking to workers about the company safety goals and mission, instead talk about the effects of safety in their immediate work environment. Do not think your safety efforts end when you have written a safe working procedure, procedural controls in isolation are notoriously ineffective.

Focus on “What is in it for me”. You cannot underestimate the power of excellent leadership in OHS.

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