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How to implement a safety management system that complies with your HVNL primary safety duty

Published: 29/03/2021

How to implement a safety management system that complies with your HVNL primary safety duty


Every person conducting transport activities in the heavy vehicle supply chain has a responsibility to prevent or minimise potential injury, danger or loss by ensuring their transport activities are safe.

Having a safety management system (SMS) in your business can be one of the most effective ways of meeting your safety obligations under the HVNL. Adopting and actively using an SMS has proven to help reduce safety-related incidents in other heavy transport industries, such as maritime, rail and aviation.

This article highlights the benefits of implementing an SMS and demonstrates how an SMS can help businesses meet their safety obligations under the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL).

What is an SMS?

An SMS is a systematic approach to managing safety, including the necessary organisational structures, accountabilities, policies, and procedures integrated throughout a business wherever possible.

An SMS helps businesses continuously improve the safety of their operations through the following four components:

  1. safety policy and documentation
  2. safety risk management
  3. safety assurance
  4. safety promotion and training.

Essentially, implementation of the above components provides businesses with a structured set of guidelines that details an organisation's processes for maintaining safety under established regulations, specifications or legislation.

As with any compliance framework, the components seek to implement communication processes, risk controls and governance practices for maintaining compliance.

Further information about the four components and how your business can implement them are explained in more detail below.

Safety policy and documentation

Your entire organisation should be committed to establishing and maintaining policies and procedures that ensure work is performed safely.

Business owners or Executives have direct duties under the amended HVNL. They are accountable for the business using safe practices throughout its commercial operations. Of course, Executives can delegate tasks to implement those safe practices. Still, ultimately Executives cannot delegate their duties under the HVNL.

As a first step for limiting liability and ensuring safety across a business's commercial activities, you should put a documented safety policy that essentially points the business in the right direction.

A safety policy should:

  • acknowledge that Executives and the organisation are committed to safety
  • reflect the business's operating environment
  • outline the business's approach to safety
  • explain how safety and risks will be managed and by whom
  • show how the business will continuously improve its safety performance.
As a second step, you should implement safety objectives. The purpose of these safety objectives is to complement the safety policy and help workers envision how safety can be achieved in practical terms. Some examples of safety objectives include:

  • conducting weekly safety meetings with employees
  • responding to all-hazard reports within 24 hours
  • reviewing all risks and risk controls at least every six months or after any incident or near-miss.

Promoting reporting of maintenance issues to reduce vehicle downtime.
As a third step, you should clearly establish the safety responsibilities of each employee. Responsibilities should be clearly defined, appropriately allocated to the right person in the business. There should be a direct reporting line to upper management or Executives to report safety issues.

Developing and implementing an approved whistleblowing system will assist in this regard. Where employees or others feel there is an issue that has not been addressed, they have an avenue to do so.

Establishing a direct reporting line is a critical part of ensuring compliance. It allows Executives to demonstrate that safety measures are in place and that they are taking proactive steps to ensure any safety issues during day-to-day operations of the business are appropriately reported.

Lastly, all staff members should make an effort to gain operational experience and boost their knowledge of safety in their organisation. Everyone within a business has some responsibility to ensure safety, and appropriately trained staff is a significant step in the right direction.

Underpinning all of the above is a need to document each step. It is often the most burdensome, but it needs to be done. While you may be confident your business is compliant, you need to ensure the documentation can demonstrate to someone outside the business that you are compliant. Documents may include policies, procedures, checklists, forms, etc. These can all be used to support the steps you take to ensure safety.

Safety risk management

There are four sub-components to safety risk management:

  • hazard identification
  • risk assessment and mitigation or treatment
  • risk monitoring
  • incident reporting.

Together, each sub-component ensures a proactive approach to managing safety and creates a process of identifying, assessing, treating and monitoring risks the business encounters.

Your risk management processes may improve where the entire organisation collectively works towards the day-to-day identification and management of risk. This requires all employees of all levels to be mindful of the safety risks and identify hazards that your organisation is exposed to and likely to encounter. Employees engaged in the day-to-day operations of the business are best placed to identify different hazards, such as:

  • physical objects that are clearly visible
  • behaviours
  • a business' policies or procedures.

Once hazards are identified, you should then undertake a risk assessment. A risk assessment is useful in determining the consequences if a hazard materialises, the extent to which hazards may interact or compound, and the manner and timeframe in which these hazards should ideally be resolved. 

Once the risk has been identified and assessed, the next step is to ensure that the risk has been addressed and mitigated. This requires implementing a control to minimise the risk and then monitoring and reviewing how that control is managing the risk. 

Where controls have been developed and implemented. The safety system should have further controls to revisit the control after a period to ensure that the control effectively manages the risk.

Don't wait until something goes wrong – it's essential to review your risk controls' effectiveness periodically.

As part of a business's safety risk management framework, there should also be a robust incident reporting mechanism.

Despite a business's efforts, incidents and near misses will inevitably occur. When those incidents occur, you must have a system to allow employees to report those incidents to the appropriate person, gather that information, document it, and enable the event to be investigated and analysed to improve future safety outcomes. The incident reporting framework should specify the following:

  • the types of incidents or near misses that need to be reported
  • who needs to report incidents, when and to whom
  • instructions for dealing with larger incidents, such as contacting emergency services and preserving the site of the incident
  • attending to injuries and ensuring the safety of those involved.

Safety assurance

In addition to undertaking risk assessments, you should also prioritise safety assurance in your business.

Safety assurance is achieved by making a commitment to the following four aspects of your organisation:

  • internal safety investigations
 – this is a commitment to monitoring and evaluating any incidents or near-misses that your organisation encounters. Importantly, we recommend that organisations are mindful of how processes can change and be improved, as opposed to merely identifying and punishing those that are responsible
  • for safety performance monitoring and management

 – your organisation should be mindful of how your SMS operates and any potential shortfalls it may have. You should also put mechanisms in place to allow your organisation stakeholders to amend and improve the SMS. A significant consideration is how your SMS acknowledges and reacts to areas of increased risk to your organisation

  • change management

 – safety risks often evolve out of an organisation's inability to adapt to change. As a result, your SMS must ensure your organisation's safety by developing a structured approach to change management. This may involve increasing the participation of all employees in safety initiatives or even consistently evaluating the risk that a change may bring an organisation

  • continuous improvement 
– while it may be helpful to collect data on risk management and safety, it is of equal importance that organisations are mindful of how the data collected can shape an SMS. Accordingly, we highly recommend that your organisation periodically evaluate your SMS and implement any recommended SMS changes.

Safety promotion and training

An effective SMS can be achieved by promoting and communicating safety at all levels of your organisation. In practical terms, this means:

  • establishing adequate training and education programs  – your organisation should offer safety training that provides employees with the knowledge and skills necessary to help identify, manage, and resolve safety risks and perform their responsibilities safely. For example, you can give refresher courses throughout the year to ensure that all employees are up to date
  • encouraging safety communication throughout the organisation           – you should encourage employees at all levels to communicate their thoughts on safety in your organisation. Conveniently, by opening up avenues for employees to express their views regarding safety, your organisation's SMS may improve more holistically
  • prioritising safe practices – a successful SMS is supported by all employees. Best practice states that senior management should set an example for safe working practices. Ideally, this means that a new employee entering your organisation should be able to recognise the entire organisation's commitment to safety.

Safety Management System Accreditation

To ensure that an internally developed Safety Management System is effective, an organisation should have its SMS accredited by an external party with competence in this area.

The SMS should show where it links into all safety-related areas of the business rather than just covering a portion of the businesses operations.

For further information on how to ensure you have a compliant Safety Management System in place please contact us.
Larry Phillips

Sectional Partners

Email:  | Phone: 1300 68 11 34 | Address: PO Box 3161, Caroline Springs, Vic 3023 | ABN 47 367 894 930 All rights reserved.


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