NZS 7901 Electricity & Gas Industries – Safety Management System for Public Safety
I guess it’s no surprise that we’re currently seeing a lot of activity in the New Zealand electricity industry specifically related to NZS 7901 – given the audit deadline is fast approaching.
In fact, for electricity suppliers, time is almost up because they must ensure that their SMS has been audited before 1st April 2012 (whereas the gas industry has until May 2013).
Interestingly however, very little has been said about NZS 7901 and there’s still a fair amount of confusion within the electricity and gas industries as to what it’s all about.
So here’s your NZS 7901 ‘101’ guide together with some real-life feedback from the coal-face (or should that be ‘power pole’ Ed?)
NZS 7901 is a Safety Management System (SMS) for Public Safety that has been developed by the New Zealand Electricity and Gas supply industries.
The key phrase here is ‘Public Safety’, i.e. it is designed to protect Joe Public – as opposed to the utility company and its employees (these issues are covered by the likes of AS/NZS 4801). But it’s not just members of the public - NZS 7901 also sets out guidelines on how to prevent damage to public property from utility assets.
In our humble opinion NSZ 7901 is a well-constructed standard because it clearly outlines the principles of a SMS for Public Safety but let’s delve a little deeper …
So how does NZS 7901 actually work?
NZS 7901 is based on a standard hazard and risk management approach.
This means the organisation must systematically identify the hazards associated with its operations – be they electricity generation, transmission or distribution (or all three). These hazards must include not just those that present a risk of causing harm to the public, but also those that might damage property. The organisation then assesses the risk associated with each hazard for its level of severity.
Next it must put in place all practicable steps (in proportion to the assessed risk level) to eliminate, isolate or minimise each hazard throughout the life cycle of the asset.
And of course they must document their SMS – and its performance – in order to demonstrate that the levels of public and property safety are improving over time.
So all pretty standard stuff - but as with all management systems, you can either make the exercise seamless and value-add – or as so often happens, turn it into a right old dog’s breakfast. Achieving the former relies on a common sense approach that is well structured and allows for easy coordination of activities.
The key thing is to ensure that your management system works ‘as one’ – as opposed to having to manage the various components independent of each other. For example, following an accident or incident you then investigate and identify the root causes. The system should then seamlessly link that accident to any improvements that have solved those causes and then subsequently link the improvements to changes to the policy and the procedures.
The same is true with hazards – especially since the standard is so heavily focused on protecting the public from such hazards. Unless well organised, most organisations will struggle with the sheer volume of hazards associated with their assets – especially when it comes to the assessment phase and communicating this information to staff.
A seamless approach to managing, assessing, reviewing and communicating such information is therefore vital.
Further, most organisations required to meet this standard, will no doubt blindly push it down the corridor to the department that looks after their assets. But these people will have little understanding of how to document a management system – let alone how to manage it. Without a tool to help manage and maintain their assets in line with the standard, they will fail. Unfortunately we should expect to see the following type of problems:
- Critical events will be missed or forgotten e.g. management reviews, audits, training and competency, hazard management, etc.
- Documents will be written and then forgotten about - only to be reviewed 2 days before an audit
- Training records won’t be kept up to date - and legal requirements therefore missed
Taking an integrated and sustainable approach will serve organisations well – both today and in the future. People come and go but standards are forever.