Health and Safety Management Systems

HSE research has shown that approximately 70% of workplace accidents are attributable to a management failure.

Therefore before outlining the components of an effective health and safety management system (designed to reduce the numbers of accidents) it is important to have an understanding of how accidents happen.

“For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost; for the want of a shoe the horse was lost; and for the want of a horse the rider was lost, being overtaken and slain by the enemy, all for the want of care about a horseshoe nail.”

Benjamin Franklin, (Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1752)

Domino theories of accident causation suggest that accidents result from a chain of sequential events like a line of dominoes falling over.  When one of the dominoes falls, it triggers the next one, and the next, eventually resulting in an accident and injury or other loss.

Accident prevention strategies involve removing one of the dominoes from the chain to prevent the sequence progressing to the accident.

The current HSE version of an accident domino theories shows that the root causes of accidents are largely management planning and organisational failings.

Health and safety is managed in the same way as any other aspect of business. Management control is typically exerted through a cycle of Planning, Doing, Checking and Acting (PDCA).

There are a number of recognised safety management systems, notably:

HSG65 (2013)                HSE Guidance on managing for health and safety (3rd edition) – now constructed around P®D®C®A.

ILO-OSH (2001)           International Labour Organisation (ILO) Guidelines on Occupational Safety and Health Management Systems

BS 18004:2008             Guide to achieving effective occupational health and safety performance

OHSAS18001 (2007)  Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems – Requirements

All essentially follow a continual improvement cycle in accordance with the principles of planning, doing, checking and acting.  Below we will go into more details around 2 of the most recognised systems – HSG 65 and OHSAS18001.

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 Overview of HSG 65

HSG65 is the UK HSE’s guidance on “Managing for Health and Safety”.  It is structured around Plan ® Do ® Check ® Act

This model strikes a balance between systems and behavioural aspects of management.   It treats health and safety management as an integral part of good general management rather than as a stand-alone system.

  1. Plan
Health and Safety Policy

An effective health and safety policy should:

  • Determine clear organisational goals and set a clear direction for the organisation to follow
  • Demonstrate senior management commitment continuous improvement
  • Identify roles and responsibilities for implementing the policy
  • Explain the organisations approach to fulfilling its legal and moral obligations to that satisfaction of interested stakeholders
  • Show that cost-effective approaches to preserving and developing physical and human resources will reduce financial losses and liabilities
Plan for Implementation
  • Establish the organisations current level of health and safety management and the future state of best practice
  • Decide how performance will be measured using both active (leading) and reactive (lagging) indicators
  • Establish effective plans for dealing with fire and other emergencies
  • Co-operate with other organisations sharing the workplace and co-ordinate plans with them
  • Plan for changes and identify any specific applicable legal requirements

2.   Do

Identify the organisations risk profile
  • Identify what could cause harm in the workplace, who could be harmed and how
  • Assess the risks and determine what needs to be done to manage the risk. For example: Hazard Awareness training
  • Identify the most significant risks and decide what the priorities are
 Organise for health and safety

This refers to activities in four key areas (the “4 C’s” that together promote positive health and safety outcomes

  • Controls within the organisation: the role of supervisors – leadership, management, supervision, performance standards, instruction, motivation, accountability, rewards and sanctions; and controls for managing contractors
  • Co-operation between workers, their representatives and managers through active consultation and involvement
  • Effective communication across the whole organisation through systems that effectively manage the flow of information, coming into the organisation; being shared within the organisation; and going out from the organisation
  • Competence of individuals through recruitment, selection, training and coaching, to ensure that workers have the necessary skills and knowledge to carry out their work safely and without risk to their health; and access to competent health and safety advice including specialist help where required
Implement the plan
  • Ensure any necessary preventive and protective measures are put into place
  • Provide suitable tools and equipment and maintain them in safe working order
  • Train and instruct all workers as necessary to ensure they are competent to carry out their work
  • Provide an appropriate level of supervision to ensure that all preventive and protective measures are properly utilised

3.   Check

Measure performance
  • Check that the plan has been properly implemented – Note ‘paperwork’ on its own is not a good performance measure
  • Determine how well aims and objectives are being achieve

There are many different types of monitoring but they can generally be categorised as either ‘active’ or ‘reactive’:

Active methods monitor the design, development, installation and operation of management arrangements. These tend to be preventive in nature, for example:

  • Routine inspections of premises, plant and equipment by staff
  • Health surveillance to prevent harm to health
  • Planned function check regimes for key pieces of plant
  • For larger more complex organisations, or organisations with significant hazards formal auditing may be required

Reactive methods monitor evidence of poor health and safety practice but can also identify better practices that may be transferred to other parts of a business, for example:

  • Investigating accidents and incidents
  • Monitoring cases of ill health and sickness absence records

4.   Act

Review performance
  • Learn from accidents and incidents, ill-health data, errors and relevant experience, including from other organisations; and
  • Revisit plans, policy documents and risk assessments to see if they need updating.
Act on lessons learned

Learning lessons involves acting on:

  • Findings of accident investigations and near-miss reports); and
  • Organisational vulnerabilities identified during monitoring, audit and review processes.

Overview of OHSAS 18001


The health and safety policy should establish the overall sense of direction and set the principles of action for the organisation.

It should also demonstrate the formal commitment of the organisation’s top management, towards good health and safety management and set objectives for levels of responsibility and performance required throughout the organisation.

The policy should be appropriate to the nature and scale of the organisation and its hazard profile. In order to be appropriate, the policy should as a minimum, include statements about the commitment of the organisation to:

  • The prevention of injury and ill health;
  • Continual improvement in health and safety management;
  • Continual improvement in health and safety performance;
  • Compliance with applicable legal requirements; and
  • Compliance with other requirements to which the organisation subscribes.

The policy should also be:

  • Signed and dated by the Managing Director / Chief Executive / or equivalent;
  • Communicated effectively to all staff and other stakeholders;
  • Periodically reviewed; and
  • Documented, if five or more people are employed.


The processes of hazard identification and risk assessment will need to be applied to determine the controls that are necessary to reduce the risks of incidents.

The overall purpose of the risk assessment process is to recognize and understand the hazards that might arise in the course of the organisation’s activities and to ensure that the risks to people arising from these hazards are assessed, prioritized and controlled to a level that is acceptable.

Implementation and Operation

Resources, Roles and Responsibilities

Roles, responsibilities and accountabilities should be defined and allocated, to facilitate effective health and safety management; the details should be documented and communicated.

Competence, training and awareness

Any person performing tasks that can impact on health and safety should be competent by way of appropriate education, training or experience, and evidence of competence should be recorded.

Communication, Participation and Consultation

 Effective communication and consultation processes should be used to garner employee support for the health and safety policy and objectives and to encourage employee participation in good health and safety practices.

Documentation and Document Control

Sufficient up-to-date documentation is required to ensure that the health and safety management system can be adequately understood and effectively and efficiently operated.

All documents required for the operation of the health and safety management system and the performance of the organisation’s health and safety activities should be identified and controlled.

Operational Control

Effective operational controls are required to manage the assessed risks and to assure compliance with applicable legal and other requirements. Examples of specific controls required include:

  • Controls related to purchased goods, equipment and services; and
  • Controls related to contractors and other visitors to the workplace.
Emergency Preparedness and Response

Suitable procedures are required for the identification of the potential for emergency situations and responding to such emergency situations.

Checking and Corrective Action

Performance Measuring and Monitoring

A systematic approach for measuring and monitoring health and safety performance on a regular basis is an integral part of an organisations overall management system. Proactive and Reactive measures are required.

Non-conformity, corrective action and preventive action

Procedures are required to identify actual and potential nonconformities, make corrections and take appropriate corrective and preventive action. The aim is to prevent problems before they occur.

A ‘non-conformity’ is a non-fulfilment of a requirement stated in relation to the OHSAS 18001 management system or in terms of health and safety performance.

Management Review

Management reviews should focus on the overall performance of the Health and safety management system with regard to:

  • Suitability (is the system appropriate to the organisations size and risk profile?);
  • Adequacy (is the system fully addressing the organisation’s health and safety policy and objectives?); and
  • Effectiveness (is it accomplishing the desired results?).

 NB OHSAS 18001 will be replaced by ISO 45001 in early 2018. ISO 45001 will follow the same high level structure as the recently revised ISO 9001:2015 quality management standard and ISO 14001:2015 for environmental management.

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