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A Continuous Improvement Approach to Strengthening Your Safety Management System

Rachel Beavins Tracy
by Rachel Beavins Tracy on Tue, Jun 21, 2016

For many business objectives, tA_continuous_improvement_approach_to_strengthening_your_SMS.jpghe name of the game is continuous improvement. There’s no end point where you can rest on your laurels, something that’s true whether we’re talking about safety, financial performance or operational excellence.

Continuous improvement requires analyzing not just results, but also the systems used to achieve them. This includes digging deep into your Safety Management System (SMS) and asking if there are ways to improve how you use it.

Let’s look at how you can strengthen your SMS, based on the Plan-Do-Check-Act approach to continuous improvement.

Step 1: Plan

First you’ll need a high-level view of the SMS, asking where things are working, where they aren’t and where you can streamline your work.

Examples include:

  • Documents: Look for key documents overdue for an update, including work procedures, Job Safety Analysis (JSA) or employee manuals. Document Control tools help you make updates while protecting revisions and preventing issues with multiple versions.
  • Change management: If there are any change initiatives on your radar, the SMS can help you plan them out more effectively. This includes quantitative risk assessment to analyze your options, a key part of making the right choice.
  • Workflows: Sometimes it takes awhile using a system before you know how to fully utilize it. In many cases, you can automate the SMS to facilitate routine processes and workflows. For example, you might create custom workflows for different types of corrective action requests, tailoring them to the team who needs to execute them and any risk-based guidelines for verification.

Step 2: Do

Now that you’ve documented the improvements you’d like to make, it’s time to put those changes into action. Consistency in execution is the hallmark of operational excellence, so it’s important to rely on the SMS here to ensure a standardized approach to processes.

If you’re planning any major process changes or changes to key documents, this step will likely include updating employee training requirements. You can improve how you leverage Employee Training tools in the SMS and streamline the overall process by:

  • Linking training requirements to updated documents.
  • Pulling HR training profiles to see who is (and isn’t) up-to-date on required training.
  • Using post-training assessment to verify employees actually retained information.

Step 3: Check

You’ve documented your plans and set up your system, you’ve trained everyone on what they’re supposed to do—now it’s time to verify that things are going according to plan.

There are two key tools here, audits and reporting. First, some ways to make your audit program more effective:

  • Use automated scheduling tools to create and maintain a consistent audit schedule.
  • House all of your checklists in the SMS so people have easy access to custom and standard checklists.
  • Switch to mobile audits so you can automatically sync findings to the SMS after the audit is complete.

Centralized Reporting is one of the most important tools within the SMS, allowing you to uncover the trends driving safety in your organization. You can strengthen how you use these tools by:

  • Automatically running reports and having the system distribute them to the appropriate individuals. This is handy if your boss requires regular updates on certain information.
  • Creating alerts for when key parameters exceed (or even approach) limits. This gives you real-time notification of critical events, in many cases allowing you to do something about problems before they occur.
  • Displaying key charts on your dashboard so you’re not constantly looking things up. You can also save searches to reduce the time to find the info you need.

Step 4: Act

The final step is to take action based on your findings during the check stage. Any noncompliances or issues that can’t be fixed on the spot need to be entered into the Corrective Action system.

You can leverage the SMS to automatically launch a corrective action request from the host application, whether it’s from the audit record, your incident reporting tools or alerts you receive on your portal dashboard.

If you’ve laid the groundwork correctly in the preceding steps, this should be fairly straightforward. The SMS will automatically route the request to the right people for review, root cause analysis and action taken. You can also use a final risk-based verification step to ensure residual risk is acceptably low.

Continuous improvement is useful for many areas of our work, but it’s equally important to use this approach for evaluating the systems that help us do the work. If you take the time to dial in your systems and how you use them, you’ll likely find that you’ll get bigger results, faster. 

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