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Safety Management Systems explained

The National Railway Safety Regulator Act No. 16 of 2002 as amended (the Act) defines a Safety Management System (SMS) as a formal framework for integrating safety into day-to-day railway operations. The framework includes safety goals and performance targets, risk assessment, responsibilities and authorities, rules and procedures, monitoring and evaluation processes and any other matter prescribed by the Act.

The SMS is the foundation of the safety regulatory framework that helps to ensure safe railway operations. Railway operators have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their operations, and the establishment of a suitably functioning SMS is key to accomplishing this responsibility. The primary purpose of the SMS to identify hazards, risks and to detail how those risks are managed and monitored.

The operator or the applicant of a safety permit must develop an SMS in a manner that complies with the requirements set out in the Determination for the SMS and Safety Management System Report (SMSR), published on 18 May 2018 in terms of Section 28 of the NRSR Act 16. The Act defines an SMSR as a written submission made by the applicant, in support of a safety permit application that describes the applicant’s SMS and may include any other matters prescribed.

These requirements are arranged to give a complete picture of the organisation’s safety management system following a Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) cycle.

The adequate implementation of an SMS by all operators is a key element for success of the entire railway safety regulatory framework as foreseen by the Act, since it forms the basis on which the Railway Safety Regulator issue safety permits.  

Implementing all the relevant elements of the SMS will provide an operator with confidence that they are able to continuously control all the risks associated with their operational activities, under all conditions.

An operator’s SMS must be integrated into the processes of the operator and should not just be a paper-based system that is developed to comply with the regulatory requirements. The SMS should be entrenched in the operators’ way of performing their activities and should develop and grow in maturity within the organisation.

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