September 2014

As chief elected officer of the Society, ASSE's president promotes the advancement of the Society and the safety profession, and represents ASSE before members, other relevant professional societies and various governmental agencies. Professional Safety shares his latest thoughts on the Society, the profession and its practice.

Read past messages in the President's Message Archive.

President's Message - February 2005

The SH&E management system must be a core component of an organization. It must be woven into the very fabric of an organization's structure.

2004-2005 ASSE President Gene Barfield, CSP

Critical Elements of an Effective SMS

In last month's column I discussed the importance of senior management ownership of safety. Just how does senior management achieve this ownership? A review of the critical elements of an effective SH&E management system (SMS) provides some insight.

The SMS must be a core component of an organization-it must be woven into the very fabric of an organization's structure. An SMS is a systematic process for managing employee, property and environmental risks. It holds management responsible and accountable for safety through goal setting, planning and performance measurement. Success or failure in meeting safety goals is treated the same as success or failure at meeting other types of organizational goals.

Thus, senior management commitment is a critical first step. SMS will only succeed to the level that senior management devotes time, resources and attention to it as a core management concern. Furthermore, this commitment must be shared by all levels of the management team. To ensure this, senior management must develop and communicate a policy statement that allocates shared responsibilities and holds team members accountable for meeting performance goals.

The SH&E policy statement should declare management's commitment to safety along with the objectives for meeting that commitment; it must provide for setting goals and require regular review of SH&E performance. It must also assign responsibility to every functional area-with these accountabilities converging at the top of the organization. In addition, it must specify a means for ensuring compliance with government and customer regulations, as well as a means for ensuring adequate safety management knowledge and skill at all levels.

Operational procedures must then be devised to implement the policy. These procedures must identify the employees responsible for performing them. Well-crafted procedures developed with employee input help ensure that practices are consistent with the policy.

The next step is to develop an implementation plan to integrate the work practices into the daily routine. This plan should start with input from each affected department. A plan initiated without input and communication from line workers will be less effective because of the dynamics of change management and the need for employee ownership of the process.

Employee and management training and competence assessment are also critical to a well-engineered SMS. While compliance with governmental training regulations is mandated, employee training must be measured by more than attendance. Employees' ability to demonstrate skills learned and competently perform the assigned job tasks must be assessed as well. Providing training without making sure employees understand and can apply processes learned is simply wasted time and money.

Measuring the effectiveness of the SMS is an ongoing process. To ensure continuous improvement and growth, actual performance must be compared with established performance measures. To achieve this, an organization must formulate-with input from all levels of management-clearly defined performance targets and goals, and must devise a system of measurement. Regular, systematic auditing of the SMS will keep management aware of areas that need to be revised or improved. Auditing should be a team function, involving operational management and SH&E staff. Rather than simply develop a list of deficiencies, the audit group must identify items that need improvement, then specify detailed corrective actions. These action items must be documented and monitored until each has been resolved.

An effective SMS is a continuous process of identifying performance standards, developing and implementing practices to improve the processes, and measuring current performance against established goals. Senior management ownership and leadership in SH&E will ensure a continuous cycle of review, measurement and improvement that will ultimately result in safe, healthy workplaces.

Gene Barfield, CSP