Simplifying Safety Management Systems


SMS 4Have you ever joined a shipping company, looked at the SMS and wondered how long it would take to read all of this?

Captain Terje Lovoy looks at some of the questions raised when making ourselves familiar with safety management systems and how we can make SMS easier to read and more logical to follow without losing the key information.

We are sometimes asked to make ourselves familiar with these systems in quite a short period of time. However it is hard to read and digest all of the information quickly.
How many times have you opened a marine accident report or root cause analysis and found that the procedures or safety management system (SMS) was not followed correctly?
Did you find the SMS in your company or a previous company was too big and complicated in structure?

For more than 20 years I, Capt. Terje Lovoy, the founder of Lovoy AS, searched for a method to help companies simplify their SMS using their own people. We spotted problems with lengthy airline procedures years ago. This article shares how the marine industry used our method to improve and simplify many SMS.

In an effort to update and improve SMS shipowners and managers have added information over time without removing anything. New procedures may be added because of findings from safety audits or incidents which took place. They may be added because of new legislation or design changes to the ship or for many other reasons.

In addition to the size and layout it could be argued that, in general the important material does not jump out because it’s surrounded by waffle and double-talk.

How to Simplify and Why?

Every person adding to an SMS may not have a standard strategy and this may be one of the reasons for complication.

We noted the order in which tasks were done was not in line with the way procedures were written.

This result is like a tangled spaghetti structure. To untangle and organise the spaghetti structure we must look at effective grouping. Let’s try a similar approach with the structure of a SMS.

Checklists and Procedures

Checklists and procedures have different purposes. Checklists are like the tip of an iceberg and they cannot contain the complete SMS. They are small documents designed to be used to confirm that a series of tasks have been completed. An example of this may be a pre-departure checklist.

A selection process is used to choose which items to enter into checklists based on risk.
Using the iceberg analogy, we need to go below the surface to look at the detailed procedures behind a checklist item.

Procedures have more details for training and in-depth explanations. You may look at these if you are uncertain about something. We discovered that there was little or no link between the checklists and procedures in a lot of the examples we looked at. This is a relatively easy fix because workflow-based procedures could be written in the same order as checklists.

Operational Grouping

Earlier, we used the tangled spaghetti analogy. Now let’s cut the spaghetti into chunks.

The old procedures we reviewed were chunked by academic topics without thinking about when we do the tasks. We therefore made new rules to help writers organise actions into workflows based on when we do them.

From Prose to Workflows

Prose text is a form of language that has no formal metrical structure. Normal everyday speech is spoken in prose and this is how most people write.

We found that the SMS used too much prose text and lacked operational workflow structure. It had too many regular sentences. We need the right balance between prose and imperative steps.

Plain Language Dictionary

Text is like mathematics, why write 12/18 when we can write 2/3?

Why write commence when we can write start? We made a new plain language dictionary available at


Passive Text

An example of passive text: “the ball was thrown by the child”

We could make this active: “the child threw the ball”

Can you see how the second example is shorter, clearer and gets the same message across? Passive sentences are often so long that we must read them several times. Passive text is therefore another problem.

SMS should be proactive and we suggest keeping passive text below 5%. This and other methods supported by proactive Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) can reduce the word count by more than 50% without losing facts.


Huge blocks of condensed text do not make easy reading. This is why we made an easy to use template inspired by NASA research. It has a clear visual graphic layout with notes, cautions and operational styles.

Industry Results

In 2014, Teekay’s navigation procedures had nearly 49,000 words. Teekay simplified it down by 65% to about 17,000 words. The main goal was to be concise. Nearly 200 Teekay vessels are using the improved procedures. Bernard Schulte Ship Management (BSM), V. Ships and many other large and small companies achieved similar results.


Tanker management and self-assessment 3 (TMSA 3) goes into effect in 2018. The plain language recommendations are updated with more details and tanker companies are working hard to meet the new recommendations.


User feedback

Feedback from the end users showed a 70% improvement in perceived usability.

Keeping it clear has rewards

Stopping the addition of complex text is just as important as doing a quick fix of the old SMS. This is a continuous process, but with high rewards. We believe a user-friendly SMS is good for safety, efficiency, operational uptime and cost.

Most will agree that simplification is a good thing, but it does not happen by itself – it must be designed. To do this you need good tools. Good tools are only half the job, knowing how to use them is the other half. This requires training. Our solutions are low tech and low risk but you must put a value on simplicity and invest in training your own people.

Find Out More

We use various methods of training which empower your staff to simplif. More information is available from Lovoy AS, +47 41374000