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Implementing a Workplace Safety Program

Filed under Workplace Safety. Fact checked on May 24, 2012.

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Implementing a workplace safety program requires training your employees in the process of accident prevention and documenting your program. A written safety policy should be communicated to employees and consistently enforced.

Despite detailed prep work to determine what is required for an effective safety program, (including assistance from Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) approved consultants), additional work is needed before you can implement the program. What's required to implement a truly effective safety program in your workplace? An effective accident prevention program requires proper job performance from everyone in the workplace. Therefore, before implementation of your program takes place, your employees and managers must be properly trained.

How can ensure that your employees are properly trained regarding your safety program? As a business owner, you must ensure that all employees know about the materials and equipment they work with, what known hazards are in the operation, and how you are controlling the hazards.

Basically, each employee needs to know the following:

  • No employee is expected to undertake a job until he or she has received job instructions on how to do it properly and has been authorized to perform that job.
  • No employee should undertake a job that appears unsafe.
  • Consider combining safety and health training with other training that you do, depending upon the potential and existing hazards that you have. Your training goal is that all employees know how to keep themselves and their fellow workers safe and healthy.

Here are some actions to take to properly train employees:

  • Ask your state or private consultant to recommend training for your work site. The consultant may be able to do some of the training while he or she is there.
  • Industry groups, trade periodicals, and other similar sources are ways to discover additional training resources.
  • Make sure that you have trained your employees on every potential hazard that they could be exposed to and how to protect themselves. Then verify that they really understand what you taught them.
  • Pay particular attention to your new employees and to tenured employees who are moving to new jobs. Because they are learning new operations, they are more likely to get hurt.
  • Employees who are having personal problems may also need special attention. Make sure that you train your supervisors to know all the hazards that face the people they supervise and how to reinforce training with quick reminders and refreshers, and with disciplinary action if necessary. Verify that they know what is expected of them.
  • Make sure that you and your top management staff understand all of your responsibilities and how to hold subordinate supervisory employees accountable for their responsibilities.

When it's Time to Implement Your Plan

Here are some things to take into consideration when implementing your safety program:

  • Have an insurance plan. You will need an insurance plan. Beyond the liability protection you will receive, don't expect much more from insurers. Their goals are different from yours; hence, they may not have the in-depth expertise to provide many of the services you may need concerning training, noise surveys, engineering services, and industrial hygiene. Don't dwell on your program's structure and reporting relationships. It really does not matter to whom one reports within your business.
  • Promote a safe workplace. The best claim is the one that never happened. The primary policy of each employer should be to avoid accidents in the first place. How can you accomplish this seemingly impossible task? Avoiding accidents can be simple, such as ensuring that employees use safety equipment, or difficult, such as restructuring job tasks and duties in a more ergonomically efficient way.
  • Match an employee's physical capabilities to the physical demands of the job. Avoid placing employees in situations they are physically incapable of handling. Job titles and descriptions should be reduced to writing and incorporated into your policy handbook or operating procedures.

Documenting Your Workplace Safety Program is a Necessary Component for its Success

One important part of the on-going administration of your safety program and efforts is documentation. Keeping records of your safety program is a key component of its initial and ongoing success. You should document the activities in all elements of your workplace program. Essential records, including those legally required for workers' compensation, insurance audits, and government inspections, must be maintained as long as the actual need exists.

Keeping records of your activities, such as policy statements, training sessions for management and employee safety and health meetings held, information distributed to employees, and medical arrangements made, is also a smart idea. As an added incentive, maintaining essential records will also aid:

  • the demonstration of sound business management, for showing "good faith" in reducing any proposed penalties from OSHA inspections, for insurance audits, etc.
  • the efficient review of your current safety and health activities for better control of your operations and to plan improvements

Writing an Effective Safety Policy

A written safety policy is the beginning of any safety program. The policy statement sets the tone and indicates what the consequences will be. It does not have to be elaborate, but a written policy should reflect the following:

  • the purpose of the safety program
  • who will be assigned safety responsibilities and what their responsibilities and accountability requirements will be

Begin by analyzing past accidents or safety problems — if they happened before and they were not corrected, they will happen again. Next, look at your industry as a whole and then look at OSHA standards.

There are specific statements and elements your safety policy should contain. They will help to not only reflect your philosophy and the intent of your safety policy, but also give specific information and guidance to employees about safety. Your policy should contain:

  • a strongly worded affirmative statement that acknowledges and supports the company's responsibility
  • titles, positions, and locations of those responsible for policy design, enforcement, and modification
  • a system for any employee to report violations of safety rules confidentially
  • documentation that establishes that the policy was given to all employees, posted prominently, and included in policy manuals
  • a statement that supervisors are held to act as agents for the company
  • a statement that any deviation from known policy by supervisors will not be tolerated
  • a process to address how questions are to be answered and emergencies handled
  • the penalties for employees who don't follow safety rules

Communicating and Enforcing Your Policy

Having a policy doesn't mean that you've done enough to ensure safety. Make sure that your policy is understood and followed. To protect yourself, you'll also want to document that you have shared your policy and enforced it, in the event of an accident. Follow these guidelines to make sure that your policy is implemented and applied:

  • All employees should sign a document stating that they have read, understood, and will follow the company policy.
  • The signed document should be retained in the employee's personnel file.
  • New employees should sign prior to actual work.
  • As the policy is updated, new sign-offs should be secured.
  • Safety training should be provided for supervisors and employees.
  • Safety bulletins and other communications should be distributed as information changes.
  • Discipline should be consistently applied to all individuals in similar circumstances.
  • Supervisors should be fully advised of the impact of their actions, given special caution concerning sole reliance on verbal instructions for safety directions, and urged to provide closer supervision to workers who are known to have violated safety rules or have personal problems that may interfere with their attention to their work.
  • As requested or scheduled, supervisors should perform independent inspections and follow up inspections to ensure the work areas and employees are conforming to safety rules.
Tools to Use

The Business Tools contain a sample safety policy for you to use. Use it to create a policy to fit your needs and requirements.

In a written safety program, accountability is the key. Some states allow for a reduction in a workers' compensation award when an employee fails to follow a safety rule or fails to use safety equipment. Safety programs should not just be written; each employee should be given a copy of the safety program and should sign to show that a copy was received. Consider including your safety policy in your employee handbook, if you have one.

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