Can a SMS Be User-Friendly and Compliant?

A Study of Safety Management Systems

Can a SMS Be User-Friendly and Compliant?

Is it possible to design a Safety Management System (SMS) that is both user-friendly and in compliance with requirements?
We asked this question to many shipping companies. Surprisingly, many replied that they did not believe SMSs could be both user-friendly and in compliance with requirements. They assumed that we must choose one or the other. The Lovoy Team researched this question. We followed 23 shipping companies who simplified and improved their SMSs.

Their goal was to simplify their procedures without loosing facts. They found that it was possible to wash the old text and make it more concise, while keeping all facts. Concise means saying what we need to say with as few words as possible. The SMS writers followed relevant industry guidance material and made sure to capture all relevant facts. Procedures must have sufficient details needed by new and inexperienced seafarers. They also need to cover items required by audits.

Using the Lovoy Method, the 23 shipping companies simplified by removing filler words, double talk and changing from passive to active sentences. The Lovoy Method did not simplify by removing facts or dumbing down the text. They replaced overly complex words such as “elucidate” with more commonly used words such as “explain” or “make clear”. They continued using maritime terms such as "enclosed space", "forecastle", and other IMO standard marine phrases.

If someone believes the solution is to remove the “excessive” details, they may end up removing facts needed by inexperienced users or for audits. They risk losing years of company experience. We call this oversimplification.

Written by Seafarers for Seafarers
True simplicity comes from thorough understanding. Simplicity without understanding is difficult. Those who do not know subjects well often insist on unnecessary complexity. We recommend using your own staff to write your SMS. If possible, use active seafarers to rewrite operational procedures for bridge, deck, and cargo.

The companies we followed succeeded in simplifying and improving their SMSs without oversimplification. Feedback from their seafarers and auditors were positive. Surveys typically showed around 70% increased perceived usability. Many companies reported that they received better audit results.

The answer to our research question is yes. It is possible for a SMS to be both user-friendly and in compliance with requirements. Contrary to what many assumed, the objectives of usability and compliance are not in conflict. The shipping companies we followed were pleased to see how their simplified SMSs complied better with requirements. This finding might be new but scientists such as William Strunk, professor of English at Cornell University, wrote about this more than 100 years ago. Strunk discovered that when a sentence is made stronger, it usually becomes shorter.