If you are a safety officer or safety representative in your place of work, then one of the first tasks you should turn your attention to is setting up a comprehensive safety management system. But what is a safety management system, why do you need it, and how do you get the process started?

What is a safety management system?

A safety management system is a system that companies implement to help them systematically manage the health and safety elements in their work environments.

While smaller companies might not need an official system in place to manage occupational health and safety concerns at first, it eventually becomes crucial for them, as they grow, to set up a comprehensive and formalised safety management system.

Why is setting up a safety management system important?

Establishing set processes for something like employee health and safety helps increase systems efficiency, helps save money, and contributes to the minimisation of errors (and in this case – accidents).

A health and safety system is therefore essential for ensuring the wellbeing of every person present in the workplace.

The job of a safety management system is to set out a way to proactively and effectively:

  • Identify safety risks and hazards
  • Prevent workplace health and safety incidents
  • Respond to such incidents
  • Report and document such incidents
  • Prevent future incidents from happening

A safety management system is also important from a legal perspective. Companies are required by law to maintain certain standards of health and safety in the workplace. It is the duty of the Department of Labour to inspect workplaces and to penalise, restrict the operations of, or even issue court orders to, companies who do not comply with OHS regulations as set out in the Occupational Health & Safety Act.

Because occupational health and safety is such an important part of any organisation, your employer might even help finance your studies if you are interested in studying an OHS course on a part-time basis.

Read: How to Ask Your Employer to Help You Fund Your Education

How to set up a safety management system

Setting up a safety management system is a project that needs to be executed with co-operation between the health and safety officers or health and safety representatives of a business and management.

1. Establish requirements

The first step in setting up a safety management system is for the company to identify their OHS needs, according to OHS policies and legislation in relation to the company’s work environments and industry.

2. Create an OHS governance structure

Next, the people who will be responsible for managing a company’s health and safety elements need to brought together. This entails:

  • Setting up an OHS committee
  • Electing a committee chairperson
  • Electing representatives
  • Establishing the committee structures and procedures
  • Defining the communication structure between the committee, employees, and management

Going forward, the purpose of this committee will be to:

  • Implement and enforce safety policies
  • Respond to and manage health and safety concerns
  • Promote health and safety
  • >Ensure the wellbeing of employees
  • Assume accountability for all health and safety elements

3. Create a plan

The committee should set up a comprehensive health and safety plan for the company and the employees. This plan should cover:

  • An initial exploration of health and safety needs in the workplace
  • A sustainable plan for ensuring health and safety in the workplace
  • Response protocols for all emergencies or incidents
  • Health and safety training programmes for employees
  • OHS objectives and goals
  • Continued evaluation of health and safety elements>
  • Methods of communicating health and safety concerns to employees
  • Reporting and documentation structures>

Here you can see what a safety incident response checklist should include:

4. Implement the plan

Each health and safety element in the plan should be assigned to a representative and implemented. The implementation will include:

  • Responding to incidents as they arise
  • Doing regular inspections
  • Training new employees on health and safety protocols
  • Running drills
  • Responding to employee or management concerns

Implementation is thus a sustained process and can range from mundane tasks to adrenaline-inducing emergencies on any given day. 

5. Evaluate and improve the system

Safety management system

Evaluation means that there is continuous improvement on the safety management system. This means that the committee will be going through the process on an ongoing basis to see where there are missed opportunities, where their efforts are falling short, and how they can keep improving their plan.

Because any safety management system is a continuously changing project, companies need skilled and trustworthy safety representatives to manage their OHS concerns.

If you are interested in joining your company’s safety committee, or in standing out in that committee and qualifying for a leadership position – you should consider completing a part-time Occupational Health and Safety Course.

You can find out more here: OHS Courses via Distance Learning