The Campbell Institute: Safety Management Systems – moving beyond compliance

Written by Pat Cunningham, Director of Safety and Auditing Services, BROWZ.

As a career safety professional, it’s encouraging to witness the evolution and continuous improvement of our profession. One shift taking place in industry, government and advocacy is the initiative to look beyond compliance and take a more comprehensive view in the name of Safety Management Systems.

The National Safety Council defines an SMS as a “systematic, explicit and comprehensive process for managing safety risks that provides for goal setting, planning and measurement of performance against defined criteria.”

Today’s approach to safety is not limited to any one organization’s effort, but is an evolution of what we’ve collectively learned about behavior-based safety, human performance engineering and learning theory. As an example, in the past an employer might have focused on establishing a regulatory-compliant lockout/tagout program to satisfy the expectation that employees receive the fundamentals of mandatory training. Today, forward-thinking employers combine classroom, computer-based and hands-on training to present their content.

Additionally, employers are assessing the long-term post-training comprehension of employees, and seeking their input to improve training content.

So how are smaller companies – with limited resources – able to embrace the management system approach to safety? Here are two examples:

  • In 2014, NSC launched the “Journey to Safety Excellence.” This initiative targets small to medium-sized companies and provides free safety assessment tools, safety resources and access to subject matter experts. Free tools, such as the safety system assessment and the safety perception survey, provide companies with insight on where to focus process improvement, as well as dialogue for greater organizational trust. Guides provide companies with a library of resources. Networking opportunities are available to become successful in their renewed approach to safety improvement.
  • During the 2016 NSC Congress & Expo in October, I was privileged to share the podium with OSHA to help introduce the agency’s “Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs.” These new OSHA guidelines reflect the “beyond compliance” shift in safety – promoting a management systems approach. Within the guidelines are recommendations on how to get started, seven core elements, tools and case studies, including program and auditing templates. The guidelines include familiar best practices of the Voluntary Protection Programs, and other elements necessary to ensure inclusion of all site workers.

Although advancements have been made in the area of employee safety, a void remains in the area of host employers and their assessment of contractors, subcontractors and temporary staffing agencies. In too many cases, the assessment criterion ends at regulatory compliance. In the not-too-distant future, business leaders will take what they know about Safety Management Systems and continuous process improvement and use these leading indicators as assessment protocols for vetting the contractors, sub-contractors and temporary staffing agencies. For example, instead of focusing on whether contractors have compliant written programs and lists of trained employees, perhaps we also assess the management system they use to assure learning, engagement and knowledge retention.

Regardless of whether you represent a large or small company (host employer or contractor), implementing a Safety Management System approach that focuses on criteria beyond compliance will provide your company with more insight on program improvement and new metrics to help track your own journey to continual safety process improvement.

This article represents the views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

Pat Cunningham is director of safety and auditing services for BROWZ, a contractor prequalification and management company, and a member of the Campbell Institute at the National Safety Council. He has more than 25 years of safety experience.

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