Many organizations in the oil and gas industry have developed Safety Management Systems due to regulatory compliance, customer requirements, industry pressure, or just because it was believed to be the right thing to do. The regulatory requirement for "Safety Management Systems" originated with the Cullen Report which was written in response to the Piper Alpha tragedy which claimed the lives of 167 persons in the North Sea - 1988.

The purpose of a Safety Management System (SMS) is to provide a description of the systems or methods by which an organization will provide a safe and healthy working environment where the risk of harm to people, property, and the environment has been reduced to a level as low as reasonably practicable. An SMS (typically defined in manual format) defines the safety expectations of management and sets the minimum safety standards for the organization. The fallacy is that an SMS only describes the system and defines the standards, it sets nothing! It is the people that work within the system that set and maintain the safety standards of a company.

To get a Safety Management System off the shelf and into practice, three requirements must be met:

  1. The purpose of the Safety Management System must be defmed and communicated to every employee of the company.

    A system must have an aim. Without an aim, there is no system.

  2. Everyone must understand and accept their responsibilities to the system.

    To achieve the aim of the system, Teamwork is required.

  3. Periodic assessments of the Safety Management System are required to provide confidence that the system is functioning on a continuous basis as intended.

A system must be managed, it will not manage itself.


The three variables that affect an organizations ability to provide a safe and healthy working environment are man, method, and machine. Man is the most critical component in the system because methods, manuals, policies, and procedures can not and will not alone ensure a safe and healthy operation. Likewise, there are no machines, accessories, or guards that can compensate for a lack of careful attention and competent skill level. This realization was evidenced in a U.S. Coast Guard document which concluded:

"Our 200-year-old safety system has been one of promoting safety through developing and enforcing engineering and technological standards. While it is important to maintain the current level of maritime safety and pollution prevention achieved by past technological and engineering innovations, removing human error will yield the greatest safety and pollution prevention results in the years ahead."

A Safety Management System will be totally ineffective if the people in the organization do not participate in the system and believe it is the right thing to do. To get a Safety Management System off the shelf and into practice, the system must be clearly defmed, properly managed, and assessed on a continuous basis.

System Aim

A properly structured safety system will unite all of a company's safety programs, policies, and procedures into one comprehensive system that functions as a whole. The structure should clearly define the roles and responsibilities of all team members for system optimization.

The main ingredient of a successful Safety Management System is the people that function within the system. Programs that involve personnel stimulate participation and prevent a safety system from collecting dust on a shelf. For system optimization, management must transfer ownership of the system to the workforce.

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