Health, safety, and environment (HSE) regulations and standards require taking an integrated approach to reducing risks that could put people or the planet in danger.

Some of the main elements of the HSE process include:

  • Creating a safety plan
  • Making inspection checklists
  • Conducting risk assessments
  • Monitoring the circumstances
  • Reserving time for relevant training

Organizations follow numerous frameworks to improve HSE performance. However, creating and following a safety assurance system (SAS) is one of the most important. The transportation and aviation industries commonly use safety assurance systems to support HSE goals, but other sectors can take similar approaches, too.


Enabling better risk management

An SAS is commonly referred to as part of a larger plan called a safety management system (SMS). The SMS is a risk management process built on quality management. It also finds and aims to eliminate all possible sources of failure.

The SAS is slightly more specific in its approach, centering on risk control and mitigation. It evaluates existing practices and processes, thereby providing the confidence that a system operates as expected and with the required level of safety.


Promoting change management and continuous monitoring

HSE performance may suffer if an organization does not make its approaches sufficiently flexible to accommodate growth in an organization. Adding new machinery or expanding the size of a team are two of the possibilities that could make safety standards slip or become ignored.

However, using a safety assurance system could reduce the chances of those unwanted outcomes. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) detailed several components of an SAS, some of which address changes and the need for ongoing improvement. More specifically, the three identified components per the ICAO are:

  • Safety performance monitoring and measurement
  • Management of change
  • Continuous improvement of the SMS
  • Succeeding With Change Management

The best practice for change management in this case is to maintain the required safety outcomes by assessing how any changes may impact the existing hazard identification and risk mitigation strategies. Then, the responsible parties must account for those aspects before the changes come into effect.

The ICAO recommends a four-pronged approach for change management:

  1. Plan: Examine the current situation and how the change will affect it, plus how the organization will implement whatever’s changing.
  2. Do: Incorporate the change as anticipated in the Plan step, but remain flexible during unexpected developments.
  3. Check: Watch any key performance indicators influenced by the change and get feedback from internal parties affected by what’s different.
  4. Adjust: Make any necessary tweaks based on information learned by going through the previous steps. Then, document and share any new procedures.


Strive for improvement

An SAS also involves monitoring the current safety practices and how people engage in them, along with measuring those activities to see if they meet desired metrics. If the responsible parties identify any issues, they should ideally look at the SMS as a whole and target any shortcomings.

One way to do that is to identify unwanted trends and the practical ways to improve them. Consider the example of a company that relies on electrical generators. Perhaps maintenance technicians have documented an above-average number of issues with those machines. Statistics show that 56% of such failures concern damaged electrical insulation.

Overheating and age are two things that make insulation start to break down and become less effective at ensuring electrical current follows only the desired paths. Contaminants can also cause the problem. However, if people detect insulation deterioration in time, they can avoid catastrophic failures. Proper equipment maintenance can tie into the HSE process by preventing accidents and environmental harm.


Raising employee accountability levels

Achieving high HSE performance requires setting aside enough time for employees to receive the relevant training. However, it’s not enough for workers to understand the best practices. They must also commit to following them.

Establishing a safety assurance system can help workers understand that they individually play vital parts in helping a company manage its risks. Great Britain’s Network Rail, which owns and manages the island’s train travel infrastructure, publishes details about its safety assurance system on its website.

The associated content clarifies that there are three levels within the SAS. First, managers set and uphold standards for establishing risk and controlling for it within the environment. From there, the second and third tiers of the SAS involve oversight from corporate leaders and independent auditors.

When workers know that safety checks occur both internally and externally, they may be more likely to take the HSE process seriously. Moreover, taking the approach of publishing the SAS for the public to see gives the impression that the organization prioritizes safety.


An SAS can enhance HSE performance

This overview highlights why creating and using a safety assurance system can help companies meet their HSE goals. An SAS is not the sole factor to help an organization succeed in that regard. However, due to its focus on risk identification and management, an SAS can certainly help business leaders target and address safety shortcomings.