A structured, deliberate approach to safety is the best way to optimize effectiveness and ensure you reap the full reward of your program.

1. Commit to workplace safety. The first step in building a safety program is getting a commitment from the company’s executives to safety and wellness. This commitment should rank high on every executive’s priority list. One way of achieving this is to include the importance of workplace safety in the company’s mission statement. Management can also demonstrate this by investigating all workplace accidents and encouraging employees to follow all safety procedures.

2. Identify hazards and assess risks. A hazard is a situation or event with the potential to cause harm. The risk is the likelihood that someone could be harmed by that hazard together with an indication of how serious the harm could be. The law doesn’t require you to eliminate all risk, but you are required to protect people as far as is reasonably practical. Talking with employees is one way of identifying hazards. They may have noticed things that are not immediately obvious to you. Inspecting the workplace is another. A comprehensive workplace survey will help identify safety hazards.

You should distinguish between:

  • Workplace hazards, such as a workshop’s layout.
  • Activity hazards, such as using grinding machinery in your workshop.
  • Environmental hazards, such as the dust created when using grinding machinery.

3. Develop written programs and processes. Management should be accountable for clearly stipulating safety requirements for employees to follow. To create a safety culture that exhibits accountability, employee job descriptions must be clear and in writing, and must state specifically the issues and requirements regarding safety and health responsibilities. Having these requirements in writing is critical because it greatly reduces opportunities for ambivalence and misinterpretation.

Not all safety regulations require written plans, but there are several that do.  Below is a list of common regulations that require a written plan or program.

  • Hazard Communication Program.
  • Lockout / Tagout Program (energy control procedures).
  • Respiratory Protection Program.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (hazard assessment).
  • Bloodborne Pathogens Post-exposure Plan.
  • Emergency Actions Plans.
  • Permit-required Confined Spaces.
  • Electrical Safety.
  • Fire Prevention Plan.
  • Hearing Conservation Program.
  • Trenching and Excavation Safety.

4. Educate employees. Training is an indispensable part of every employer’s safety and health program for protecting employees from injuries and illnesses. Research shows that those who are new on the job have a higher rate of accidents and injuries than more experienced workers. If lack of knowledge of specific job hazards and of proper work practices is even partly to blame for this higher injury rate, then training will help provide a solution.

Many OSHA standards specifically require the employer to train employees in the safety and health aspects of their jobs. Other OSHA standards make it the employer’s responsibility to limit certain job assignments to employees who are “certified,” “competent” or “qualified”—meaning that they have had special previous training, in or out of the workplace.

OSHA has developed voluntary training guidelines to assist employers in providing the safety and health information and instruction needed for their employees to work at minimal risk to themselves, to fellow employees and to the public.

Good Rules of Thumb—provide training when you:

  • First hire employees (include both general and job specific).
  • Transfer employee between departments, or assign new responsibilities.
  • Change or implement new processes, substances and/or equipment.
  • Uncover special hazards (i.e., excavations, confined spaces, respiratory, etc.) or hazards that were previously not noticed.
  • Believe refresher training is needed or required by regulation.

5. Investigate/report all accidents and incidents. All incidents should be reported and investigated regardless of the severity of the outcome. The outcome is generally not controllable, but the incident itself is more often than not an event that is preventable. The purpose of an investigation is to:

  • Determine the causes of the incident. Take care to remind the injured employee(s) and witness(s) that you are not attempting to place blame; you are on a fact-finding mission.
  • Identify what can be done to reduce the chances of a similar accident happening again.
  • Take corrective action and monitor results.

6. Evaluate safety processes each year. Determine the strengths and weaknesses within your safety processes. Look for ways to improve them and ultimately reduce workplace accidents and injuries. Implement new and modify existing processes as needed.