Given the fact that the effectiveness of safety management systems (SMS) have reached a no‐improvement plateau in most organisations in Hong Kong, those involved in SMS would agree that change is needed to give safety a continuous improvement momentum. The concepts, principles, tools and practices of total quality management (TQM) can be the means to obtain such a change. This paper is an attempt to apply the TQM concepts and techniques in a systematic manner into a SMS. First, the problems of a compliance‐oriented SMS adopted by most organisations in Hong Kong are summarised. Then, the needs and rationales for the establishment of TQM‐based safety management briefs, which will ultimately determine the backbone of a SMS, are illustrated. Next, a systematic process for developing and implementing a SMS that incorporates TQM principles is outlined. Finally, the problems of the integration of TQM ideas into the SMS adopted by major Hong Kong enterprises are discussed.