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Drafting a Successful Safety Program

Contributed by Safety Management Group
by Mark Steinhofer, PhD, CHST

Most companies prepare safety programs to meet the requirements for local and federal compliance. However, a good safety program can do far more than simply keep you on the right side of the law.

By helping you ensure that you have the right systems in place, a successful safety program can prevent employees from getting injured on the job. That’s important to the well-being of your business. Your employees are your company’s greatest asset and are critical to meeting the needs of your customers, so keeping employees safe and healthy also keeps your business safe and healthy.

The types of programs your business needs depends on your industry and the type of work you do. That’s why your first step in developing a safety program is to understand the rules or standards that apply to your industry. For example, if you’re in construction, CFR Part 1926 contains the federal laws related to worker safety. Most other industrial companies can look to CFR Part 1910 for regulations applicable to the safety of their employees.

Those regulations address the minimum you’ll need to comply with federal laws, so they form a good foundation for your safety program. The next step is to build upon that foundation by adding your own company’s standards and opinions about safety. A well-crafted policy should serve as a written explanation of your company’s safety culture and the mission of your safety-related efforts. It may also outline minimum requirements for contractors who work on your sites (and for their subcontractors).

Having a plan in writing serves several purposes beyond meeting regulatory requirements. It provides a solid reminder that your company is serious about safety and will only do business in safe ways. In addition, it provides benchmarks against which safety performance can be measured and verified.

A comprehensive safety program policy addresses a wide range of areas. Some of the most common for companies to include:

Hazardous Materials Communications: How will you make workers aware of the hazards involved with the chemicals they handle or may come in contact with?

Safety Inspections: How will you inspect the safety-related aspects of your operations to ensure that you and anyone else on your site follow the standards you’ve established?

Roles and Responsibilities: Clearly defining everyone’s responsibilities where safety is concerned prevents misunderstandings and omissions due to uncertainty about who is responsible for what.

Orientations: In addition to understanding what your company does, it’s important to ensure that everyone working on your site understands your company’s expectations and philosophy regarding safety.

Emergency Response Planning: This part of your policy spells out what workers and supervisors are expected to do in the event of specific incidents. It should cover every situation that’s appropriate for activities on your site. For example, if a worker’s fall protection equipment successfully interrupts a fall, how should the other workers bring him to safety? What should workers do in the event of a fire or a tornado warning?

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Spell out the PPE that will be required with specific tasks on the jobsite, and ensure that workers receive training that will allow it to be used properly.

Investigations: When an incident occurs, how will you go about determining the cause and identifying steps to prevent a recurrence?

Discipline: What steps will you take if one of your employees or another company’s employee fails to live up to your safety policies? Will they be sent home from the jobsite? Will discipline be progressive, with a warning for the first offense, followed by stronger penalties for subsequent offenses? Nobody likes discipline, but having and enforcing a clear policy tells workers that you’re serious.

Although you may choose to develop your own safety program, there are many well-documented advantages to turning to outside expertise. First, a safety professional will have a solid understanding of the state of the art in safety practices, so he or she will bring a higher level of knowledge and understanding to your needs. Second, developing a policy is a time-consuming effort that can be challenging to fit into your already busy workload. Finally, a third party can take a more objective view of your company’s operations and needs, ensuring that your policy is appropriate and comprehensive – something that’s critical in today’s litigious business climate.

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