Dusty folders lie forgotten in a broken shelf in the corner of an office. In these folders are safety records and documents. This forgotten shelf holds the secrets to keeping this business and its employees free from potential damage and harm. It holds the secrets of potential cost savings that management don’t realise they can tap into. And yet, these documents have been abandoned to gather dust and cobwebs.

Health and safety can be forgotten so remember to have a good health and safety management system

Let’s be clear, attitudes to health and safety aren’t always as bad as this metaphor. Although, it is sad that health and safety can often be shoved to one side. To us, it seems obvious that businesses that do this are missing a trick. But not everyone realises this. In our experience, improving safety attitudes and focusing on a structured system for managing safety in your workplace can lead to multiple benefits. More on those later.

More and more businesses are opening up to the importance of active safety management and the benefits of looking after their staff. Companies like yours. After all, you are actively searching for information on the specifics of a health and safety management system.

What can you get out of this blog?

So, captive readers, let’s get on with it. Read on to find out:

  • What a health and safety management system is;
  • Why is it important to have one;
  • What is included and covered in a health and safety management system;
  • When you need one;
  • Who needs to be involved;
  • How to create a health and safety management system for your business.

Because, as I’m sure you know, your health and safety management system needs to be specific to your business and its inherent risks.

What is a health and safety management system?

A health and safety management system, sometimes abbreviated to SMS (Safety Management System), is a written “guide” or “manual” detailing how your business manages health & safety.

If you have been reading our latest series of blog posts then you’ll have a good idea of the elements that make up the management system. We’ll go into what they are later in this post.

Why is it important to have a health and safety management system?

health and safety management system helps you get the big picture

When improving safety performance in your workplace, your health and safety management system is the obvious place to start.

The main reason for having a health and safety management system is consistency. You may think that managing health and safety as a whole, abstract subject is complex or difficult. If you want another metaphor…the big picture for safety is big. Possibly mural sized. Or on the scale of a piece of landscape art. It’s a big, big picture.

Making sense of this big picture is where a management system comes in. It breaks it down into manageable chunks.

A recorded management system is used to ensure that everyone knows how to do things correctly and consistently.

Some of the benefits of working on a strong health and safety management system are:

  • A more cohesive workforce that communicate well;
  • More productive and motivated staff, because they are well organised, well trained, well managed, and working in a pleasant environment (both physically and perceptually);
  • Management that lead by example, which shows staff that they’re as important to your business’ success as the ‘higher-ups’, thus reducing a ‘them and us’ culture;
  • Reduced accidents, near misses and property damage;
  • Reduced insurance premiums;
  • Less likelihood of civil claims or prosecution. That’s a big fear-based pain off your back.

What is included / covered in a health and safety management system?


Any health and safety management system should cover the following subjects as core areas:

Of course there are many other areas that a management system should include. It all depends on your business and what your business does. There also may be legislation that requires specific information or procedures to be in place.


Here are some more specific examples of procedures you may want to include in your management system:

  • Training;
  • Inductions;
  • Working at height;
  • COSHH (or chemical management);
  • Manual handling;
  • Equipment management and maintenance

The list is far from extensive. If you want help in determining what you need to include in your management system, contact us for a gap analysis or review of your existing documentation.

What needs to be covered may also depend on whether you are looking to achieve an ISO accreditation. With ISO 45001 due to come out in March 2018 to replace OHSAS 18001, you may have decided it is the right time to work towards achieving the new standard.

When do you need one?

health and safety management systems for small businesses with under 5 employees

In theory if you are a small business with less than 5 employees, you don’t have to record your risk assessments, etc. Though you still do need to prove that they have been done.

You could apply the same logic to your health and safety management system. You don’t need to have one if you have under 5 employees, right?

Let’s explore that a bit. Say you work in the construction industry as “Joe Bloggs Plasterers”. You, as a small business owner, decide that you want to start working on bigger commercial projects to promote business growth. Chances are that you would need to go through a compliance scheme to prove your business manages safety to an acceptable standard.

In these circumstances, a written health and safety management system that perfectly fits your business is likely to help your business get such work.

Who needs to be involved?

We’ve previously covered the need for a competent person to support your business in managing health and safety. You need a competent person, and should also consider how the following roles are involved:

  • Senior Managers / Directors / Business Owners – these will have overall responsibility for health and safety and therefore need to be involved in the decision making, management reviews, and ensuring that required resources are made available;
  • Finance Managers – the individuals that hold the purse strings;
  • Department / Team Managers and Leaders – the ones that have day to day management responsibility for their work areas and employees;
  • Your employees – it’s important to have your employees involved in risk assessments etc.

How to create a health and safety management system for your business.

produce and write up your health and safety management system

As a simple overview, follow the next three steps:

  1. Decide what requirements you need to include – legal requirements, work undertaken etc;
  2. Record how you want to manage health and safety in your business;
  3. Roll out the management system

We do understand that although it sounds simple, in reality without the right help, you may struggle to create a health and safety management system. As such, if you require help, please feel free to contact us for a chat.

What about communication?

It’s all good and well to have that nicely written health and safety management system on your computer. Is it being used, though? Has it been communicated?

Ben Stout, one of our health and safety consultants, says, “When we start working with any new client, our first task is to review what is already in place and start from there to make improvements or add any missing pieces.”

“Once you have a health and safety management system you are happy with, the next step is to communicate the system to your employees at all levels of the business. It is important that everyone can access the documents and fully understand what is involved.”

“Also remember that inductions is a must use opportunity to tell new employees how important safety is in your business and to cover any specific information they need to do their new role safely.”

One step beyond communication is acceptance.

Actually getting staff to accept ownership of their responsibilities can be troublesome, as reflected in the words of Rik Lee, Safety consultant and one of our Directors here at ADL Associates, “Nobody takes responsibility for ensuring staff acknowledge or accept risk assessments. The lack of acceptance does my head in! It makes a safety professional’s job harder when there’s no commitment or assurance that any of the tasks or risk assessments you are are trying to communicate are going to be acted on.”

And that is where the monitoring and review part of your health and safety management system are so essential. For a time, management need to be firm when trying to promote change and improve safety performance. Over time good safety practices become a habit rather than a battle.

Health and Safety Workshops

We hold regular open workshops on safety management. If you liked this blog post – which we guess you did as you read this far – and would like more information on our next workshop, please contact us and we will keep you up to date with all the details.