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Safety Management Systems

A new ATSB research report examines the effectiveness of safety management systems (SMS) and provides important insights for operators and organisations. 

SMS refer to organisations having a systematic approach to managing safety, including organisational structures, accountabilities, policies and procedures. They generally include common elements such as explicit management commitment to safety, appointment of key safety personnel, hazard identification and risk mitigation, safety investigations and audit, and safety performance monitoring. 

This research is especially timely because aviation, marine and rail industries have all recently incorporated safety management systems into regulations and operations as a required way of managing safety. Although Australia’s transport industries’ SMS approach is following world’s-best practice, there has been little empirical evidence presented as support for how the SMS approach actually influences safety. 

Dr Matthew Thomas undertook a comprehensive search of the literature that exists around SMS, examining existing studies and comparing their findings. The review found that safety management systems do appear to reduce accidents and improve safety in high-risk industries. At present, however, there have only been a small number of quality evaluations and it is unclear as to whether any individual elements of a SMS have a stronger influence on safety than other elements. At the same time, it is clear that management commitment and appropriate safety communications do affect attitudes to safety. Transport organisations that provide an appropriate investment and commitment to a safety management system should receive a positive return on safety. 

The research report XR-2011-002, A Systematic Review of the Effectiveness of Safety Management Systems, contains detailed descriptions of its methods and findings.

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Last update 04 January 2013