The Benefits of a Health and Safety Management System

The main components of a Health and Safety Management System (HSMS) include both policy – a ‘mission statement’ for health and safety that provides a mechanism for management control and accountability – and arrangements for implementation, monitoring (including audit) and continual improvement.

Formalising these arrangements removes the potential arbitrariness of processes developed by a few individuals and helps to support a management culture that can involve the whole workforce.

A HSMS can prioritise the planning, organising, control, monitoring and review of measures to protect people from work risks. It’ll help allocate the correct resources, achieving effectiveness and efficiency.

Whatever management model is used, it’s likely to be based on the principle of plan, do, check and act (PDCA – also known as the ‘Deming cycle’). Numerous types of management system are based upon this principle, notably ISO 45001 and HSG65.

Some of the benefits of HSMS’s are presented below.

Occupational health focus

Significant occupational health risks can be assigned the correct level of importance and be properly resourced.

This isn’t always the case with ad hoc H&S processes, which depend largely on the experience of available H&S practitioners (including occupational hygienists) and the internal structures of the organisation. Also, employees generally have a greater understanding of safety risks than health risks. When implemented correctly, an HSMS should address these issues and strike the right balance in controlling all risks.

H&S is as important as other business objectives

Many organisations struggle to give H&S objectives the same importance as other business objectives. At times, this failure threatens the survival of an organisation; at others, it can lead to prosecutions and other penalties. A correctly implemented HSMS will make sure that appropriate H&S objectives are set by focusing on policy and the process of setting objectives and their delivery through the management programme.

H&S in relation to quality

British and international standards support the drive towards ‘customer first’ services, and as a result quality is high on the agenda. Quality isn’t usually a legal requirement, but health, safety and (often) environmental performance are. The development of formal HSMS’s should make sure that sufficient importance is given to H&S performance, which typically has more impact on employees than on customers.

Legal compliance is easier to attain and prove

The development and extension of health and safety law have led to additional legal requirements. Organisations can have difficulty keeping up to date with the requirements relevant to their sectors.

An HSMS helps identify relevant statutory provisions and creates a framework of procedures to make sure that the organisation consistently complies with the law.

Proving ‘reasonably practicable’

In the UK and some other countries, you may have to prove that you’ve met ‘practicable’ and ‘reasonably practicable’ requirements in order to demonstrate legal compliance. When a balanced management system is implemented, and risk management is systematically applied – based upon the proportionality of risk – it should be easier to prove compliance. For example, quality management systems (QMS’s) have been used to prove due diligence for compliance with food safety law and to ensure product safety.

Helping system integration

Many organisations started with a QMS, then adopted an environmental management system and are now considering an HSMS. The structures are similar, and adopting an HSMS will mean that if, at a later date, you decide you need a holistic business risk management approach, integration should be straightforward.

Continual improvement

This process aims to improve some part of the HSMS at any one time, rather than trying to improve all the elements in the system simultaneously. This structured and very practical approach allows the organisation to improve areas that aren’t operating effectively or efficiently, using reviews and audits to identify systematically the opportunities for improvement.

Increasing the effectiveness of initiatives

The longevity of management and other health and safety-related initiatives in organisations varies. Many organisations use campaigns and awareness-raising programmes to improve knowledge and encourage participation in health and safety issues. An HSMS requires continual improvement and this can increase the duration and effectiveness of management initiatives, allowing them to adapt and develop in line with policy commitments.

Visible commitment of ‘top managers’

HSMS’s, like other management systems, formally require ‘top management’ to be involved in and committed to the system. This is carefully documented through setting policies and objectives and through regular reviews to check the results achieved. Once the objectives are set, senior managers must visibly demonstrate their commitment to achieving them. It’s consistently argued that such commitment is essential for ‘world-class’ H&S results – an HSMS demands it.

Regular audits

Audits present an opportunity for benchmarking (e.g. through creating audit teams with members from different departments or from outside the organisation) and identifying opportunities for improvement. External certification and assurance bodies – which audit against applicable standards – can help to identify non-compliances and necessary improvements.

Part of corporate governance

There’s an ever-increasing requirement for directors to follow codes of practice and meet the standards expected in public life. Demonstrating that H&S controls are adequate is an important part of meeting this responsibility, and independent audit to externally set standards is an impartial way of achieving this. Regular management review of audit reports and HSMS results meets governance requirements for H&S risks.

Reassuring the enforcement authorities

Enforcement authorities require organisations to comply with applicable health and safety legislation. The formality and systematic approach to compliance required by an HSMS encourages confidence in the organisation’s internal approach. In

the UK, for example, the HSE’s HSG65 states: “If you do follow the guidance you will normally be doing enough to comply with the law.”

A focus on H&S resources

An HSMS requires resources to be allocated in all functions and at all levels throughout the organisation. A risk-based approach which ensures that the scale of a management system is proportionate to the risks and necessary control measures makes such resource allocation intrinsic to the whole organisation. This is, in part, what the Turnbull Report requires of London Stock Exchange-listed companies.

Emergency preparedness

HSMSs should make sure that suitable resources are made available to respond to foreseeable emergencies. This may include provision for contacting outside agencies, including emergency services, and developing and communicating on- and offsite emergency plans. An HSMS places such planning in a proper management context.

Managers have a ‘finger on the pulse’

The HSMS includes defect (‘non-conformance’) reporting, which directs managers’ attention to opportunities for correcting problems and making improvements. Managers need to address health and safety issues effectively, no matter how busy they are. Alerting managers to problems and actions they can take or sanction continually reminds them of their critical health and safety role.

Systematic risk management

Perhaps the biggest challenge is to comply with the legislative need to plan, organise, control, monitor and review the preventive measures in place to control significant risks. An HSMS creates a structured system for compliance with the requirements of both applicable legislative codes and industrial sector best practice.