The Hypocrisy of Safety Management Systems For SMEs
At the moment there is a debate raging on a LinkedIn Forum (Ok, its not really raging perhaps just happening) about why SMEs (Small and Medium-sized Enterprises) don’t have comprehensive documented SMS (Safety Management Systems) in place.
Of course, as expected on LinkedIn, there are plenty of comments about them just not caring, can’t possibly induct without formal written procedures, not understanding their compliance requirements, not wanting to spend the money or just being lucky that they haven’t had a serious incident yet.
However, there are some positive comments like “I would suggest that many SME’s don’t need a formal documented SMS. Australian SME’s can have great inherent processes in place and be fully conforming to the Australian OHS/WHS Legislation without a written SMS”.
Most of my work is with SMEs and all the ones I have worked with have evolved from operating out of a home garage into a successful business focused on quality, customer service, innovation and most of all great relationships with their employees. Safety of their people is just a given, doesn’t need silly platitudes and is included inherently in everything they do. Risk is carefully considered and managed as they go, holistically along with everything else that contributes to their success. This doesn’t require a lot of formal systems and volumes of paperwork – the culture is very much like a family – love, care, ethics, trust, relationships, communication, empathy, safety, risk management and learning DON’T require complex systems and paperwork – that just stifles the process. Smart SMEs don’t waste time and money on unnecessary crap.
Then along comes the regulator, Tier 1 customer or hungry consultant who intimidates and bamboozles them into thinking that they need a complex, formal SMS and zero harm goals. They dutifully comply, not because they want to but, out of fear, they think they have to. Some serious time, money and heartache later, they end up with what is effectively 2 diametrically opposed SMS, one to represent how they really do things and one to please the auditor and win the contract. I feel so frustrated and sorry for these people as they lament the hypocrisy and waste of resources involved in maintaining this charade which does nothing but take the focus off what they have always done well.
Then they start having accidents and non-conformances caused, no doubt, by the total confusion. To make matters worse, rather that “cover their arse” in court as promised by the slick snake oil salesperson, the new approved system actually crucifies them as they can’t prove that they were actually doing what was documented.
Don’t get me wrong, we still need systems. They are the foundation of any mature organisation but they have to be fit for purpose and for the right reasons.
As always I would love to hear your thoughts on this. It would be great to get ideas of what we do about it but I appreciate that is a tough one.