Safety Science, Vol. 24, No. 2, pp.

157-158, 1996
Pergamon Published by Elsevier Science Ltd. Printed in the Netherlands
0925-7535/96 $15.00 + 0.00

Book Review
Safety Management Systems, by Alan Waring, Champion&Hall, London,
pp 241. ISBN 0-412-71910-X.

According to the author “the purpose of the book is to provide all those who have a
responsibility for occupational health and safety management with a detailed reference guide
to the design, development and implementation of health and safety management systems
(SMS). The book seeks to provide a more complete and rounded approach to the subject than
is available elsewhere via a synthesis of the author’s practical SMS experience and his
research-based knowledge of key topics such as safety culture and power issues which affect
success (for SMS)“. The above keywords in cursive, will be the basis for my comments and
critique. He provides a long list of actual audiences for the book, mostly professionals in
safety management and related areas at work, which includes lecturers and their students at
BSc., MSc., and other safety courses.
The book is split into two parts. Part One (chapters l-4) provides a general outline of
SMS, and Part Two (chapters 5-l 1) concentrates on practical requirements. Chapters 1 and 2
review and discuss basic systems theory back to von Bertalanffy, and relate general systems
approaches to international (ISO) standards on (quality) management and similar approaches.
Chapters 3 and 4 are on organisational functions and contexts. The practical requirements in
Part Two include subjects as goals, policy, strategy, planning, resources, implementation, risk
assessment, audit, and monitoring and measuring performance, including a wise warning
against unrealistic expectations of “quick fix” approaches to SMS.
The author starts with a straightforward description of basic principles of systems theory. I
miss a focus on the distinction between open and closed systems models, and the difficulties
and optional ways of defining system boundaries. The links between the general systems
approach and approaches to management systems and SMS are not presented in a convincing
way except for models of feedback loops. The author describes a sort of development in SMS
from mechanical “clockwork” models with simple feedback control systems, to socio-techni-
cal models and TQM, adding a human “touch” to the “clock”, and ending with what the
author calls a “human activity system” as something different and superior to the other
approaches. Except for phrases like “focusing on people and addressing the complexity of
organisations” I did not get any idea at all about what the new paradigm really means. As this
superior SMS model is not used in the applied and practical parts of the book, that did not
improve my understanding of the approach either. His critique of the “mechanical” SMS
models, by the way, the models that are the main framework for his Part Two, would have
been more convincing and more consistent if he had linked it to a cybernetic framework of
systems theory, e.g. perspectives as “the law of requisite variety” and orders of feedback
When linking the SMS models to standards and regulations he makes a critical comment
saying that certification to (SMS) standards does not necessarily show that the holder is any


You do not learn enough about the methods to use them. factors. short references. with systems theory and research-based knowledge on organisa- tion and management. An example: you learn how to do a trend analysis on injury data. However. There is one exception: the author penetrates the concepts of organisational culture and safety culture in a sensible way. the author presents and details the structural SMS model of the book. methods. and interpretations. I should have wished that he had given more proofs on this statement and other statements in the book which I find sensible but not documented by scientific empirical research or by convincing illustrative case studies from industrial practice. and the comments and discussions integrated in the running text. There are some few pieces of the text where that is achieved. which represents 3/4 of the volume. The examples given in frames do not fill the educational intentions of clarification.158 Book reoiew more a quality (or safe) organisation than an organisation that has none. check- lists. It is representative for the mainstream of approaches to development and implementation of SMS. one of many variants of problem-solving steps and feedback in SMS processes addressing what the author calls a systematic approach in contrast to the systemic perspectives of Part One. It is not structured and detailed enough to fill the intention of representing a detailed guide. and technique. It is full of good intentions of being complete and balanced. comments. In Part Two. but in general the book would have benefited from a clear choice between being a broad reference guide for practitioners. and consequently the contents and coverage of the subjects become lean and arbitrary. culture is just a residual for what you do not understand. The basic idea of the book as presented in the introduction of merging and synthesising practical experience of SMS. seems both challenging and appealing to my own thinking about safety management. and the presentation of cultural subjects may open this audience up to more reflective perspectives (an interpretative view). and phenomena affecting companies’ SMS. and you do not get the critical reflections on their possibilities and limitations. They represent a mixture of case descriptions. For the audience of the book with a narrow background in technology or economics. you do not get the basic principles in statistics (significance testing and confidence intervals) which could have prevented managers and safety experts from drawing conclusions on ups and downs from small numbers of stochastic incidents. Jan Houden . This chapter starts with a clarifying discussion of health and safety contributions to the organisa- tional business goals and performances. guidelines. But when looking at sections within the chapters the logic disappears in a mixed presentation with uneven depth of principles. but. resulting in a synthesis of applicable new knowledge in the field. I am sorry to conclude with the overall criticism that none of the purposes of the book have been really fulfilled in an adequate and successful way. in general the author has missed the rich social science literature on organisations and organisational behaviour. or a book on new integrating paradigms for SMS based on scientific literature. cannot explain or predict in your rational models (a functionalist view in his words). The framework of organisation contingency theory could have been used for the structuring. The book makes you aware of these non-rational aspects of SMS. and by that also provided a bridge to the next chapter on the inner context. The overall structure of chapters 5-10 seems to be a reasonable logical chain of inferences. I would have preferred pure case descriptions separately. Chapter 3 on the outer context of organisations gives an unstructured and descriptive overview of the most important external actors. tools.