Don’t Reinvent the [SMS] Wheel!


What the pipeline industry can learn from others implementing Safety Management Systems

BY John Kill

Safety management systems (SMS) are used throughout the world in a variety of industries: chemical processing, aviation, offshore oil & gas, public transit, maritime, rail, and even NASCAR. Each of these industries is in a different stage in the journey that is safety management systems, as is the pipeline industry – which could be described as being in its infancy on the SMS path.

Since there has been so much global experience across numerous industries on SMS development, implementation, and improvement, pipeline companies could do themselves a real service by utilizing the lessons learned from other companies and organizations.  I thought it would be interesting to see if there are some common themes that run through the various lessons learned.  Here is what I found using a pretty simple internet search, and then sorting and grouping the information discovered.  The sources for this modest analysis are provided at the end.  The following are in order of how often they were mentioned by the various sources, possibly implying a ranking of importance – you can decide!


  1. Buy-in and a demonstrated commitment from leadership was the most recognized quality for the implementation of a successful SMS.
  2. Corporate and site cultures that support the attitudinal, organizational, and other changes that will be necessary to successfully implement a SMS.  A couple of the sources referenced the need for the first item (leadership commitment) to make this culture change happen – this makes sense.
  3. The need to use reliable, clear, and objective data to drive the decisions to be made within the SMS framework.  In other words, you don’t work on the right opportunities for improvement if the information is not correct nor understood.
  4. The company must invest in training – educate everyone on the SMS. Successful SMS implementation involves change, with new expectations and accountabilities; this can’t happen in a vacuum, so the training is critical.


Other “honorable mentions” that are worthwhile sharing include:


  • Involvement of the local regulator – they need to be part of the SMS journey.
  • While a SMS may seem expensive to implement, a successful SMS will have a positive impact to the bottom line.
  • The SMS must fit the organization – while there must be changes, the organization cannot be structured around the SMS, or it is likely to fail, and have negative impacts on the business.


In summary, many common lessons can be extracted from these different industries.  The pipeline industry should take advantage of all of this knowledge – why reinvent the wheel if you don’t need to!

If you want to ask an expert a question about your Safety Management System today, please contact us.



  2. Transport Canada
  3. Federal Transit Administration
  4. -nascar-learned-hard-way-about-safety-management-systems/
  5. Safety Management System LLC
  6. Provenance Consulting, Patrick Nonhof, October 28 2015
  7. Center for Offshore Safety, SEMS & Safety Culture: A Journey of Continuous Improvement, Charlie Williams