Safety management systems: A broad overview of the literature

Yuling Li, Frank Guldenmund

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

58 Citations (Scopus)


This paper describes safety management systems (SMSs) on five core aspects: definition, evolution, models, purpose and common elements of SMSs. A safety management system implements safety management activities, so an overview of definitions of safety and safety management sheds light on the content of an SMS. SMSs emerged from the risk concept and safety defences. The development of SMSs was boosted by research into ‘safety’, ‘management’ and ‘system’ theories, (safety) risk analysis techniques, safety audit tools, and related standards. Consequently, the study of SMSs became a multidisciplinary topic and through modelling SMSs, a generic framework can be established aiding the effectiveness of SMSs.

There are two main groups of models informing SMSs: (1) accident related models, and (2) organisational models. The relationship between these two models is outlined in this paper. Moreover, we discuss that SMSs studies and models are developed for two main purposes: control and compliance. To control means by implementing safety systems or subsystems, an SMS is able to control risks and to improve continuously, as well as comply with the appropriate standard management systems. As the key to implementing a functional SMS is to carry out common managerial processes, we map the elements of various SMSs to a generic SMS to explore the extent to which they correspond. Like a diamond needs to be cut with facets to show its brilliance, this paper intends to determine and clarify the ‘facets’ of an SMS, and to distinguish all issues clear-cut for the modelling of an SMS.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)94-123
JournalSafety Science
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Safety management system (SMS)
  • Risk management
  • Safety barriers
  • Modelling safety
  • Accident scenario

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Safety management systems: A broad overview of the literature'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this