AS 4801 Safety Management Systems

Another Guest Post by George Robotham 

AS4801 Safety Management Systems


Many people will have you believe 4801 is the holy grail of safety management systems and the fact that they have a AS 4801 compliant safety management system means they are doing a good job on safety.

As far as I am concerned AS4801 represents a very basic approach to safety management systems and any S.M.S. I would want to implement would substantially exceed the requirements of AS4801.

A major problem with AS4801 is it does not have a focus on Class 1 (Permanently alters the future of the individual, Fatal or Non-Fatal) personal damage. Whatever is done in safety must be guided by the Class 1 personal damage occurrence phenomenon. Industry taxonomies as opposed to enterprise “accident” analysis is required.

For me the safety management system that is the benchmark was the one that had the following elements-

1 18 internal standards of OHS excellence

2 A commercial S.M.S.

3 Catastrophic risk management programs for low probability-high consequence risk.

1 18 Internal standards of OHS excellence

One of the best pieces of OHS work I have seen was when one organisation implemented 18 internal standards of OHS excellence.

Standards were Visitor safety, contractor safety, compliance with statute law, use of personal protective equipment, management commitment, hazard identification/risk assessment, safe working procedures, loss prevention &control, employee involvement, emergency procedures, accident investigation, education/communication, inspections, health & fitness, injury management, etc and compliance with these standards must be audited.

There was extensive consultation with the stakeholders in the development and implementation of the standards.

One company I was associated with introduced the above standards and it put a massive increase in the focus on safety. What excellence in implementation of the standards would look like was defined and people were trained in this. A detailed set of audit questions, based on the fore-going was developed as was a detailed set of auditing guidelines and roles of auditors defined. Sites to be audited were briefed on the auditing guidelines and auditors were trained on the audit questions and auditing guidelines. A series of annual Executive Safety Audits was introduced at the various sites with an audit team led by a senior manager to give the process significant management horsepower. The largest audit team I was involved in had 10 auditors and audited the site for 4 days. A quality assurance approach where NCR (Non-compliance reports) were issued was used and formal processes were introduced to follow-up on audit recommendations.

The technical basis, training and preparation for the audits was sound but the key to success was the fact the audits were driven by senior management

2 A commercial safety management system

I was responsible for the implementation of an office-based Safety Management System in an office of some 350 personnel. Personnel consisted of mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, mining engineers, civil engineers, geologists, H.R. professionals, admin staff, payroll people, accountants, purchasing staff, learning personnel, various managers and support staff. Many of these people visited operating sites.

I was charged with implementing the N.O.S.A. (National Occupational Safety Association) Safety Management System out of South Africa in a Brisbane office. Prior to this implementation there was an enormous safety focus at operating sites but virtually nothing in safety was done in Brisbane office. The first step was to appoint Health & Safety reps. and form a Health & Safety Committee that met monthly. I selected an outside provider to train committee members in their role, duties and responsibilities.

The N.O.S.A. safety management system is a 256 element one, primarily designed for high risk environments, the challenge my team successfully overcame was modifying the system to be applicable to the relatively low risk office environment. I trained committee members in the N.O.S.A. Safety Management System and I facilitated a committee workshop where committee members decided which of the extensive N.O.S.A. requirements were applicable in our environment.

A booklet outlining which of the N.O.S.A. elements were applicable was produced and these were explained at the monthly tool-box meeting. In some cases I did this and in some cases I coached the reps in how to do this. Input into the S.M.S. was encouraged from staff. Either I or the reps conducted monthly tool-box meetings in all sections where safety issues were discussed, safety problems were raised and resolved and progress on implementation of N.O.S.A. was discussed and monitored.

The following are some other initiatives introduced-

  • Revision of the office safety induction and introduction of a site induction program for those visiting sites
  • A competition with a minor safety related prize to name the Brisbane safety system-Brisafe was decided upon
  • Publishing of a Brisafe guide book
  • Development of a safety induction handbook
  • Introduction of monthly safety inspections
  • Advanced driver training for those with company cars and their partners. This was an expensive exercise but management considered it a wise investment as it was clearly the highest risk task. Fleet safety and management procedures were also introduced that saved considerable expense. Nowadays many question the value of advanced driving programs.
  • Training in the use of fire equipment
  • Upgrading of emergency procedures and training
  • Upgrading of incident reporting procedures
  • Fitting of earth-leakage protection
  • Improved reporting of safety performance
  • Off-the job safety promotions
  • Training in screen-based equipment ergonomics and an ergonomics survey
  • Noise survey, attenuation and replacement of noisy office equipment was carried out
  • Illumination survey
  • Fire risk survey
  • Chemical substances management system introduced
  • Emphasis on housekeeping & storage
  • Upgrade of first-aid facilities
  • Establishment of a safety reference library
  • 6 monthly internal safety audits and annual external safety audits
  • Use of job safety analysis to develop safe working procedures, I trained people in how to go about this
  • Dissemination and explanation of workers compensation and rehabilitation procedures
  • I liaised with senior management to ensure they had a highly visible commitment to safety
  • *The majority of these initiatives were low cost ones I carried out, in some cases with help from the health & safety reps.
  • An extensive effort to introduce the above was carried out over some 8 months and we received a 4 star ( out of 5 stars) effort rating at our first external audit.

Whilst the implementation of N.O.S.A. went well in Brisbane office there were problems at the operational business units, probably the major one being the quality of the training provided by N.O.S.A.I never came to grips with whether the problems were with the N.O.S.A. system or the way sites reacted to it.

3 Catastrophic risk management programs for low probability-high consequence risk.

In Managing Major Hazards about the Moura Disaster, Andrew Hopkins makes the point that an over emphasis on reducing L.T.I.F.R. can result in not enough emphasis on low probability-high consequence risk.

Consultants were engaged to facilitate teams to identify and provide recommendations for controlling low probability- high consequence risk. Systems safety methodologies were used. Interestingly in the light of the American experience one of the risks we considered was aircraft flying into the corporate head office building.


When I consider my experience with safety management systems, as outlines above, it says to me AS4801 does not give really useful guidance on developing safety management systems


George Robotham, Certificate IV Workplace Training & Assessment, Diploma in Workplace Training & Assessment Systems, Diploma in Frontline Management, Bachelor of Education (Adult & Workplace Education), (Queensland University of Technology), Graduate Certificate in Management of Organisational Change, (Charles Sturt University), Graduate Diploma of Occupational Hazard Management), (Ballarat University),One third of the way through a Masters in Business Leadership ,Accredited Workplace Health & Safety Officer (Queensland),Justice of the Peace (Queensland), Australian Defence Medal, Brisbane, Australia,, www, 07-38021516, 0421860574,20/10/2010

George Robotham

George Robotham

George was a Legend in the Safety World who passed away in Sept 2013 but left us with a great legacy
George Robotham
I have worked in OHS for most of my working life, many years in the mining industry including over 10 years in a corporate OHS role with BHP. Since leaving the mining industry I have worked in a variety of safety roles with a variety of employers, large & small, in a variety of industries. I was associated with my first workplace fatality at age 21, the girl involved was young, intelligent, vivacious and friendly. Such a waste! I was the first on the scene and tried to comfort her and tend to her injuries. She said to me “George, please do not let me die” We put her on the aerial ambulance to Rockhampton base hospital where she died the next day. I do not mind telling you that knocked me around for awhile. Since then I have helped my employers cope with the aftermath of 12 fatalities and 2 other life-altering events. The section "Why do Occupational Health & Safety" provides further detail but in summary, poor safety is simply very expensive and also has a massive humanitarian cost. My qualifications include a certificate I.V. in Workplace Training and Assessment, a Diploma in Frontline Management, a Diploma in Training & Assessment Systems, a Bachelor of Education (Adult & Workplace Education) , a Grad. Cert. in Management of Organisational Change and a Graduate Diploma in Occupational Hazard Management. I am currently studying towards a Masters in Business Leadership. Up until recently I had been a Chartered Fellow of the Safety Institute of Australia for 10 years and a member for about 30 years. My interest is in non-traditional methods of driving organisational change in OHS and I have what I believe is a healthy dis-respect for many common approaches to OHS Management and OHS Training. I hold what I believe is a well-founded perception that many of the things safety people and management do in safety are “displacement activities” (Displacement activities are things we do, things we put a lot of energy into, but which when we examine them closely there is no valid reason for doing them). My managerial and leadership roles in OHS have exposed me to a range of management techniques that are relevant to Business Improvement. In particular I am a strong supporter of continuous improvement and quality management approaches to business. I believe leadership is the often forgotten key to excellence in most aspects of life. I hold the Australian Defence Medal and am a J.P.(Qualified). I have many fond memories of my time playing Rugby Union when I was a young bloke.

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