Measure 8 key elements to improve your performance

To prepare for this article, I familiarized myself with a number of management systems. This is not intended to be a critical analysis of any of these management systems; it’s just one person’s observations based on a number of years of experience with management systems.

The overarching observation is that many of the management systems in play are simply too complex and cumbersome to be broadly applied other than by a handful of large companies well endowed with health and safety resources. An effective H&S management system needs to follow the revised KISS Principle — KEEP IT SIMPLE AND SHORT. Most management systems are neither simple nor short and, therefore, likely to die of their own weight over time.

Some of the more popular management systems are listed below. This is not intended to be a complete listing; many businesses have their own systems:
  • ANSI/AIHA Z10-2005 American National Standard for OH&S Management Systems: Developed under the auspices of the AIHA, it was recently approved by the American National Standards Institute.
  • OHSAS 18001: This is the UK’s version of a management system.
  • International Safety Rating System: An example of a management system available for purchase or licensing.
  • VPP — OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program is built on the foundation of a management systems approach.
  • ILO’s Guidelines on OH&S Management System: An international non-governmental organization (NGO) approach.
  • ISO 9000 & 14000: Neither of these is specifically focused on H&S but the embodiment of quality and environmental management concepts and principles are relevant.
The good news: The concept of a management systems approach to H&S is alive and well. The bad news: The deployment and execution of the same leaves much to be desired.

Fortunately, there is an alternative. I’d like to introduce you to the Simplified H&S Management System (SMS).

Success criteria

First and foremost, a management system must be capable of preventing problems and delivering predictable and desired results. I call this “systems capability.” Next, it must lend itself to a quantifiable output and be comprehensive. In other words, the system must incorporate all aspects and programs dealing with H&S — no outliers or exceptions. It needs to be owned by the line. The best way to assure line ownership is to enroll them in the up-front design of the system. It must be deployable to every department, plant, division or country within a given jurisdiction.

To achieve deployment, the modified KISS principle must be followed — Keep it simple and short. The system needs to be priority-based, bringing focus to the greatest opportunities for continuous improvement. And finally, it must lend itself to validation after a period of use.

System elements

The SMS has eight key elements covering four primary areas. Primary areas are: Organizational Planning and Support; Standards and Practices; Training; and Accountability and Performance Feedback.

Organizational Planning and Support

1) Commitment and expectations:This element focuses primarily on management’s commitment to H&S. It is senior line management’s responsibility to:
  • Set expectations — with H&S’s input;
  • Communicate the expectations;
  • Demonstrate commitment to the expectations (i.e., walk the talk);
  • Provide reasonable resources — the right to succeed;
  • Track progress and hold the organization accountable;
  • Recognize and reward progress and performance.
2) Employee involvement:Employees should not be subject to the system but instead be part of the system. Examples include: being involved in the preparation of safe practices, participating in job safety analysis, conducting behavior observation sampling, being active participants in safety committees, and participating in key element surveys.

3) Goal-setting and action planning:One of my favorite axioms is, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” This element embraces both tactical and strategic planning and the setting of both after-the-fact (lagging edge) and before-the-fact (leading edge) goals. For example, an after-the-fact goal could be a specific reduction in recordable incidents, and a before-the-fact goal could be to achieve a management system rating of eight. Once the goals are set, there needs to be specific actions that once accomplished should lead to the achievement of the respective goals.

Standards and Practices

4) Technical and regulatory requirements:This is the largest key element in that it embraces all applicable regulatory requirements (e.g., OSHA regs, as well as any internally developed standards, such as internally developed occupational exposure guidelines, standard operating procedures, and current best practices).

5) Safe practices:This includes department and site safe practices describing specific measurable safe behaviors and practices.


6) Training and resources:I call this element “the right to succeed.” Without properly trained resources, success is unattainable. However, resources will always be scarce, making you feel that there are never enough. Training is critical for all levels of management as well as all employees. Solid employee training is key to effective employee involvement.

Accountability and Performance Feedback

7) Behavior observation sampling:Behavior-based safety seems to be falling out of vogue. This is unfortunate since it is a critical and solid component of a successful program. The problem with BBS is that it was sold as a program focusing on employees and was just another “safety program.” BBS needs to focus first on management performance errors, then on employees, and it must be incorporated into the overall management system as it is here. Management and employees should work together to identify all of the behaviors essential for safe operation. Once identified, a small number (6 – 10) are selected each week and a diagonal cross-section of the department samples these behaviors each shift. A score is kept with the goal to increase the percentage of safe behaviors observed week to week. Confrontation and positive reinforcement are also part of this element.

8) Performance tracking and accountability:Both management and employees need to hold themselves accountable for achieving agreed upon improvement goals. If the goals are not met on schedule, specific actions need to be identified that when accomplished will get the department back on track. Senior management has the primary responsibility to hold the organization accountable, as well as recognize and reward accomplishments.

Rating system

A ten-point rating system measures the system’s capability for each key element as shown below:

0: Nothing in place
2: Major system deficiencies, minimal effort
4: System unsatisfactory, unreliable, no system owners in place
6: Partially implemented, delivering results, but not sustainable
8: Implemented / effective, sustained >6 months
10: Superior implementation, sustainable

Each key element is rated for each department. A composite of all key elements is taken for a departmental rating. An overall site/plant rating is established by taking a composite of all the departments. This process allows identification of specific areas requiring improvement. In larger organizations with multiple sites, ratings can be arrayed to determine which site requires additional effort to reach established goals. The table below indicates how the resultant rating can be used to determine the overall H&S system’s capability to achieve desired results:

Rating Capability

<6.5 not capable
6.5 – 8 adequate, plan required
8+ capable and sustainable

(click to enlarge)

Performance descriptors

For each key element there is a series of performance descriptors that are used to arrive at a numerical rating. For the sake of brevity, a few examples of what this could look like in the Standards and Practices area are provided in the Performance Descriptor table.

Validation and deployment

Any management system is not worth the paper it is written on if it is not broadly deployed within the site or company and does not produce desired results and drive continuous improvement. We developed real-world validation of this SMS after about two year’s experience.

Acquisitions, which essentially had no management system in place, had a low management system rating of about three and a high Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR) of about 12. Divisions with about two years of experience using the SMS had SMS ratings in the 5 – 8 range with correspondingly lower TRIR in the 1.5 – 4 range. Essentially in place now for several years, this system has driven continuous improvement.

This relatively simple management system can be broadly deployed, even across cultural barriers. The SMS described here builds off of just eight key elements and encompasses ALL aspects of H&S.