Safety Management System

Having a Safety Management System (SMS) in place in your business can be one of the most effective ways of meeting your safety obligations.

An SMS is a process to manage safety risks that are integrated throughout your business activities. A good system focuses on preventing harm and enables informed decision making, knowledge sharing, promotion of safety and continuous improvement. A good system is one that is documented, implemented and applied daily. Everyone in your business should be familiar with it.

What are the Benefits of an SMS?

An SMS can help you:

  • provide a safer work environment for your employees, customers, contractors and the public
  • comply with your duties under the HVNL and WHS laws
  • demonstrate your ability to manage risk and ensure safety
  • become a preferred supplier to customers
  • make informed decisions and increase efficiency
  • allocate resources to the most critical areas that have an impact on safety
  • reduce costs associated with incidents and accidents.

What are the Key Elements of an SMS?

It should be designed to suit the size and complexity of your business. A safety management system generally consists of the following key elements:

Management Commitment and Accountability:

Effective safety management starts at the top. This is reflected in the duty of executives to exercise due diligence. Those who operate and manage the business need to show that they take safety seriously, for example by:

  • getting involved in health and safety issues
  • investing time and money in health and safety
  • ensuring safety procedures are followed.

Clearly assign safety roles and responsibilities and ensure everyone in your business understands where they fit in the safety management system. This can be done through safety policies, job descriptions and organisational charts.

Identify the legal requirements that apply to your business and implement systems or practices to detect and prevent potential breaches.

Communication and Consultation:

Identify who needs what information, when they need it and how that information will be collected, checked, communicated and documented if necessary. In addition to consulting parties in the chain of responsibility, the WHS laws require that you consult your workers on health and safety issues so that you can take their views into account when making decisions that affect them. Consultation can be as simple as talking to your workers regularly and encouraging them to:

  • ask questions about health and safety
  • raise concerns and report problems
  • make safety recommendations and be part of the problem-solving process.

Risk Management:

The risk management process is the driving force behind the safety management system. It involves:

  • identifying what could cause harm or damage when using a heavy vehicle
  • assessing, if necessary, the likelihood of this harm occurring and how serious the consequences could be
  • implementing available and suitable control measures to eliminate or minimise the risks
  • reviewing the effectiveness of the control measures.

Involve your workers in this process to achieve the best outcome.

Resources: Risk Register Template

Competency and Training:

Check the competency of your workers and contractors, including licences that are required. Use the risk management process to identify any competency gaps and provide training to ensure workers can undertake their jobs safely. Managers or supervisors can provide on-the-job training in such things as:

  • Induction of new employees
  • Specific hazards associated with the job, e.g. fatigue management
  • Safe work procedures, e.g. load restraint
  • Emergency procedures

Procurement and Contract Management:

Include safety specifications when purchasing new vehicles and equipment. Select contractors with safety as one of your key conditions and specify your requirements. Ask questions and get evidence of their experience with the type of job you want them to do and their safety performance. Ensure that the terms of any contract do not lead to unsafe work.

Resources: Factsheet – Using a Contractor

Incidents and Emergencies:

Consider the type of emergencies your business could be exposed to, for example fire, explosion, chemical spills, vehicle accidents and medical emergencies. Develop procedures on how to respond quickly and safely when a critical incident occurs. Test these procedures at regular intervals to ensure they can be properly implemented if an actual emergency arises.

Investigate the causes of incidents to prevent recurrence and ensure ‘notifiable’ incidents are reported to relevant authorities.


Record Keeping:

There are specific record-keeping requirements under the HVNL, for example work diaries and permits. Other records of your safety management system should be kept to help you review your safety performance and demonstrate compliance with safety laws, for example training records and risk registers. Ensure that everyone in your business is aware of record-keeping requirements, including which records are accessible and where they are kept.


Regularly review how effective your safety management system is in eliminating or reducing risks and achieving compliance. Ask your workers on whether, and how, it could be improved.  Use the below checklist to find out how well your safety management system is performing.

Resources: How good is your safety management system