Efficacy of Safety Management Systems

Reviews of safety climate models (based on large organizations) have highlighted ‘safety systems’ as a factor in approximately two-thirds of studies (Flin et al., 2000; Gadd and Collins, 2002). This perception of formal safety systems as having a significant influence on safety would not be expected in SMEs, where systems are much less formalized. Researchers have demonstrated that the quality of occupational safety organization and the use of workplace risk assessment have a tendency to increase with increasing organizational size (Sorensen et al., 2007). These findings are reflected in research on the quality of safety management systems operated by SMEs.

Clarke and Flitcroft (2008a) found that the UK-based SMEs in their study had only basic safety management systems in place. Similarly, Vassie et al. (2000) reported that the majority of UK-based SMEs (80 per cent) had a written safety policy, as well as formal procedures relating to risk assessment and accident reporting, but little evidence of proactive safety management practices. Champoux and Brun (2003) found that the minority of their respondents (13 per cent) had written prevention activities that focused solely on accident prevention. This was in contrast to preventive activities that had a direct bearing on production, such as equipment maintenance, which were used routinely by all companies. Furthermore, very few (5 per cent) had formal participatory mechanisms (such as health and safety committees), despite these being required by legislation. Clarke and Flitcroft (2008a) found more evidence of preventive activities, such as keeping records of ‘near-misses’ and feedback to staff on health and safety issues, but still little evidence of employee participation and active involvement. In a study which controlled for organizational size, Arocena,

Nunez and Villanueva (2008) found that the intensity and emphasis on innovation in preventive practices, in conjunction with workers’ empowerment, was associated with lower injury rates in their sample of 213 Spanish industrial organizations. The authors were able to identify a synergetic effect between the innovative orientation in safety management and high level of workers’ empowerment; this finding would suggest that additional benefits are gained from workers’ empowerment when combined with innovative preventive activities, such as risk prevention training, information communicated to workers and the collection of feedback.

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