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What is a Safety Management System?

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A Safety Management System (SMS) is the documented version of all the safety procedures for a business. When it comes to complying with various safety legislation, it’s incredibly important to have an up-to-date, accurate and comprehensive document that can be referred to in the event of an audit.

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When it comes to ensuring safety, many people are involved in the process, such as the management, administrative staff, allocators, drivers and subcontractors. Most businesses will already have some form of safety procedure in place to manage workplace health and safety (WH&S) risks. An SMS is a way to expand on the current system to ensure it meets all risks involved with the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) and treated with the same rigour as all safety risks.

Businesses then need an easy and effective way to communicate its safety procedures and policies. Any breach of those policies falls on the shoulders of the business and its employees, so it’s everyone’s responsibility to take every measure to prevent that. The SMS gives your business the best opportunity for all parties involved, in any work task, to be as safe as possible.

The success of any good SMS is having consultation with all levels of staff in the organisation. In all stages of developing and implementing the SMS, consulting staff means you’re able to cover off any risks that were missed or weren’t properly identified earlier. A good SMS in place is like a living and breathing ecosystem you need to constantly review and update.

Why do workplaces need an SMS?

With an SMS in place you can work towards creating a culture of safety in the business. As an auditable document or group of documented policies, procedures and processes, employees and employers can’t allow safety to fall by the wayside. Having an SMS in the workplace means that everyone has access to a document that contains everything they need to know regarding safety. They know exactly what policies and procedures are in place and how to adhere to them properly. It also means that should an incident occur, you’re able to compare the SMS procedures against what was followed prior to the incident occurring.

What industries benefit from having an SMS in place?

Mobile fleets in the transport, commercial, construction or mining sectors pose a high safety risk, so it’s crucial to have an effective SMS. But all businesses can benefit from having one. Just like a first-aid kit, a SMS should be a necessary component in all workplaces.

My business already has an SMS in place, is it in the clear?

Just because your business has one, it doesn’t mean that it’s still relevant. It’s up to an organisation to ensure that the information is suitable for all work types and is in-line with the current state of the industry. If that document is several years old, not all the information will still be useful. A regular review of the SMS (or in some cases, an entire overhaul) is needed for it to be successful. As conditions change and technology improves, the SMS should include strategies to address these shifts.  As changes and amendments are made, these should be shared throughout the entire organisation, so everyone is clear on what is expected of them.

Whose job is it to create and maintain the SMS?

The department responsible for the creation of the SMS will depend on the size of the business. There should also be someone responsible for educating everyone in the business, ensuring its strategies are upheld and reviewing the document regularly. This includes identifying the need for the SMS and compiling all relevant information.

An example of who might be for your business is:

  • Small business (less than 50 staff) – The owner/director of the organisation.
  • Mid-sized business (between 50 and 200 staff) – A fleet manager, supervisor or member of the executive team.
  • Large or enterprise businesses (200+ staff) – Head of HR or a member of the business’ compliance team or Workplace Health and Safety team.

How can businesses get started with creating their own SMS?

There are several guides and resources available to get started. The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator has a framework it recommends using for building an effective SMS:

Safety policy and documentation

  • Outlining business objectives, accountabilities and commitments to safety
  • Detailing methods and processes needed to meet objectives
  • Identifying key personnel in the business who are responsible for the implementation and maintenance of the document

Safety risk management

  • Identifying hazards in the workplace and work culture
  • Conducting a risk assessment and identifying activities to successfully manage hazards
  • Establishing an incident reporting process
  • Monitoring and reviewing the effectiveness of the document

Safety assurance

  • Managing a commitment to safety
  • Outlining the responsibilities of everyone in the business
  • Interacting with third parties in the event of a review or audit

Safety promotion and training

  • Establishing effective training and education processes for all staff
  • Implementing a positive safety culture
  • Encouraging open communication and feedback on safety procedures

What you include in the SMS will also depend on your business. This could change based on the type of vehicle you use, the types of staff employed, locations staff travel to and from, and the length of an average work day. All these differences can pose varying degrees of risk and challenges to an individual business, so following an exact template isn’t ideal – it should be based on the specific risks you’ve identified in your business.

Engaging with a specialist who is knowledgeable about what a SMS is and how to effectively create one is vital. They can help with creating the document as well as facilitating change management and training your staff.

How does telematics fit into the SMS process?

Telematics gives businesses the tools to effectively measure driver performance and better adhere to targets set out in the SMS. Without the ability to understand that bigger picture, it’s more difficult to conform to the SMS effectively.

Telematics technology can be used in conjunction with an SMS to ensure safety. For example, real-time alerts will pick up excessive acceleration, cornering or braking, while electronic work diaries help to better manage fatigue and vehicle tracking can locate and communicate with drivers in isolated areas. It helps to measure risks and address them before they cause an incident.

Telematics is also an essential tool in the event of an audit. If the business is under investigation, telematics data can be used to demonstrate that the SMS is being adhered to. It can also be used to show where the SMS was not being followed and appropriate action can be taken.

How do I communicate the SMS to the rest of the business?

Once the SMS is complete, the next step is communicating with staff, both permanent and contracted. It’s important that everyone in the business understands the procedures and the part they play in maintaining safety. A lot of people don’t like being told to change their way of working. There needs to be an appropriate method of educating them about the reasons for the change.

Some effective ways of communicating this include hosting toolbox meetings, making the document easy to comprehend and engaging a specialist to go through updates on policies, what strategies are being put in place and how the SMS will affect the workplace.

How can my business successfully review the SMS?

Review dates should be placed on the documents and electronic triggers set up to remind the appropriate people to conduct a review. This should be done on an annual basis, as compliance laws and technology change constantly. It’s also recommended to touch base with your specialist every five years to ensure your SMS is being updated correctly.

It’s important to stay up to date with your industry by regularly attending conferences and events and subscribing to relevant publications and newsletters. That way, when it comes time to review, the document is always being updated with the right information and not just for the sake of ticking a box.