A safety culture exhibits a reporting culture. Information must be free flowing within the organization. The reporting system must encourage and accommodate both the proactive reporting of hazards and the reactive reporting of incidents and accidents. Every report must be treated systematically and transparently, and not generate disciplinary action or any other form of retribution against the reporter where no willful negligence was involved. Once members of the organization feel free to report hazards, incidents, and accidents, they will continue to do so if they see some concrete results from their reports. This means that those who report hazards, for example, must receive feedback on what is being done about the issues raised in their reports.
Senior Management Commitment
No safety management system will function effectively unless there is management buy-in and leadership. Accountable executives have the power to implement cultural change from "the top down". No amount of enthusiasm or planning by staff will have any effect if management is lukewarm toward, or is seen to be unsupportive of, SMS implementation. The staff needs to know that they can count on company management to support their safety initiatives. Company management must be seen by their behavior and actions to be actively supporting the implementation and continuation of the SMS.
Attitudes and actions of top-level management influence the attitudes and actions of staff. As hazards begin to be identified, senior management must be prepared to commit resources to find solutions promptly. If they are merely swept under the carpet because the fix is too time-consuming or costs money, the program will lose credibility and the hazards will remain. Management indifference of avoidance of solutions will doom what would otherwise be successful SMS programs.
Safety Management System Requirements
What needs to be included in an effective safety management system? Clear authorities, responsibilities and accountabilities for safety, at all levels within the organization. This includes the following:
- Senior management commitment to safety as a core value
- Safety policy
- Discipline policy
- Hazard identification and safety risk management
- Establishing accident, incident, hazard reporting and investigation programs
- Safety orientation and recurrent training
- Maintain open and constant communication
Implementing a safety management system in an organization requires a lot of work. It is not something that is implemented over a weekend. The culture change and necessary process improvements will outweigh any initial costs and efforts. In our competitive environment it will be only those who keep sharpening the saw that will truly succeed.