The essential objective of a safety management system is to provide for a systematic approach to achieving acceptable levels of safety risk. At the start, a system analysis is conducted, hazards are identified, risk is assessed, and controls are put into place until the risk is determined to be an acceptable level to those working within the system. In an ideal world, these controls, such as the use of PPE or an engineered system, would always be used, always be reliable and never be circumvented. Knowing that is not the case, a Safety Assurance Methodology process is established to assess the presence and efficacy of those controls on a recurring basis.
While a safety management system (SMS) is comprised many components, this article will focus on safety assurance using the safety inspection and observation process coupled with subsequent risk analysis of the findings. Even in safety management systems that feature reasonable risk management processes, the safety assurance component may be undervalued and subsequently, underutilized. This is because fulfilling regular safety performance monitoring and review takes considerable planning.
The framework for a robust and effective safety assurance methodology program should consist of the following elements:
- A vision that established the purpose of the safety assurance program
- A documented system to collect the findings
- A trained team of competent observers
- An honest assessment and detailing of the environment
- Analytical tools that can present the available data so that actionable insights can be obtained
In previous articles we discussed why inspections and observations are conducted (Purpose of Workplace Safety Inspections and Safety Observations) as well as how they are conducted (A Guide for Workplace Safety Inspections and Safety Observations). Once the framework is in place, the Safety Assurance Methodology can provide a rich source of evidence-based criteria to track and trend the effectiveness of established controls. This evolution is best done using the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) continuous improvement cycle. However, it is much more complex than simply applying this model to your existing process. You must have an organization supporting it with commitment from management to review the data, provide appropriate responses, and provide necessary resources to quickly act on the findings. In addition, everyone involved must be properly trained so consistent and meaningful data is collected and acted upon.
Within the Safety Assurance Methodology structure, the documentation of the observation process should adhere to a few basic principles:
- Collect the good as well as the opportunities to improve (e.g. safe and at-risk; compliant and non-compliant; positive and OFI – opportunity to improve)
- Develop a system to count findings to determine the breadth and depth of the review (e.g. inspected one fire extinguisher or 100)
- Assign a relative risk level to opportunities to improve (e.g. low vs. high risk potential)
- Provide the opportunity for observers to document pertinent details and comments to enrich the storytelling element and encourage dialogue
With these simple guidelines, a wealth of relative risk metrics will present themselves, allowing deeper and more meaningful data analysis opportunities. In the next series of articles, each relative risk metric will be presented in greater detail and highlighted to show both the simplicity and the value. While each piece of the puzzle is simple, the collective methodology yields a value that far exceeds the sum of each individual part. Tune in to the subsequent articles to learn more.
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Cary comes to the SafetyStratus team as the Vice President of Operations with almost 30 years of experience in several different industries. He began his career in the United States Navy’s nuclear power program. From there he transitioned into the public sector as an Environmental, Health & Safety Manager in the utility industry. After almost thirteen years, he transitioned into the construction sector as a Safety Director at a large, international construction company. Most recently he held the position of Manager of Professional Services at a safety software company, overseeing the customer success, implementation, and process consulting aspects of the services team.
At SafetyStratus, he is focused on helping achieve the company’s vision of “Saving lives and the environment by successfully integrating knowledgeable people, sustainable processes, and unparalleled technology”.
Federal Aviation Administration. (2017, September 11). Safety Management System. Retrieved from https://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/sms/explained/components/