Starting a Safety and Health Management System

You must decide who in your company is the most appropriate person to manage your safety and health system. Who can ensure that the program will become an integral part of your business? In many cases it will be you, the owner. Sometimes it will be a plant manager or key supervisor. It could even be an engineer, personnel specialist, or other staff member.

Whoever you choose should be committed to workplace safety and health, have the time to develop and manage the program, and be willing to take on the responsibility and accountability that goes with operating an effective program. The individual will need your full cooperation and support, but the ultimate responsibility for safety and health in your workplace rests on you.

Ask for Help
One of the first things to learn is which branch of government, Federal or state, has current jurisdiction over your business. If you are not sure what agency is responsible for administering workplace safety and health in your state, contact the nearest OSHA Area Office to find out. You will need certain Federal OSHA publications (or comparable state publications) for use in your safety and health activities, such as:

  • OSHA Workplace Poster (Job Safety and Health Protection - OSHA 3165)
    You must display the Federal or state OSHA poster in your workplace. This poster is also available in Spanish (Job Safety and Health Protection OSHA-3167).

  • OSHA standards that apply to your business
    You need to have a copy of all OSHA standards that apply to your type of business available for reference. Standards are the regulations that OSHA uses to inspect for compliance and should be the baseline for your inspections in determining what to do when hazards are identified. Most businesses fall under OSHA's General Industry Standards. If you are involved with construction or maritime operations, you will need the standards that apply to these classifications. (In states with state-run occupational safety and health programs, use the appropriate state standards.)

  • Recordkeeping requirements and the necessary forms.

  • Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. You may want a copy of this legislation for reference.

Organize the Workplace
Poor housekeeping can contribute to low morale and sloppy work. Most safety action programs start with an intensive cleanup campaign in all areas of the workplace.

Get rid of unecessary items; provide proper waste containers; store flammables properly; make sure exits are not blocked; mark aisles and passageways; provide adequate lighting, etc.

Get everyone involved and impress upon employees that you want to make your workplace safer, more healthful and more efficient.

Start Gathering Specific Facts About Your Situation
Before making changes in your safety and health operations, you should gather information about the current conditions and business practices that comprise your safety and health program. This information can help you identify problems and determine what is needed to solve them.

Your workplace assessment should be conducted by the person responsible for your safety and health management system and/or a professional safety and health consultant. The assessment consists of two major activities:

  1. A comprehensive safety and health survey of your entire facility will identify any existing or potential safety and health hazards. This initial survey should focus on evaluating workplace conditions with respect to safety and health regulations and generally recognized safe and healthful work practices. It should include checking on the use of any hazardous materials, observing employee work habits and practices, and discussing safety and health problems with employees. See the Self- Inspection Checklists, to help you get a good start on creating this initial survey.

  2. The second major activity is to assess your existing safety and health program and identify areas that work well and those that need improvement. You should gather as much information as you can that relates to safety and health management in your workplace. You should include the following in this review:

    • Safety and health activities. Examine ongoing activities as well as those tried previously, company policy statements, rules (both work and safety), guidelines for proper work practices and procedures, and records of training programs.
    • Equipment. List your major equipment, what it is used for and where it is located. Special attention should be given to inspection schedules, maintenance activities, and plant and office layouts.
    • Employee capabilities. Make an alphabetical list of all employees, showing the date hired, their job descriptions, and experience and training.
    • Accident and injury/illness history. Review first aid cases and workers' compensation insurance payments and awards, and review your losses. Compare your insurance rate with others in your group. Give special attention to recurring accidents, types of injuries, etc.

After gathering facts, see if any major problem areas emerge such as interruptions in your normal operations, too many employees taking too much time off due to illness or injury, too many damaged products, etc. General help with this kind of problem identification can often be obtained from compensation carriers, local safety councils, trade associations, state agencies, major suppliers or similarly situated businesses in the same industry.

If you discover a major problem, see what can be done to solve it. Once a problem is identified, you can work on the corrective action or a plan to control the problem. Take immediate action and make a record of what you have done. Even if you find no major problems, don't stop there. Now it is time to develop a comprehensive safety and health program to avoid any major problems in the future.

Establish a Four-Point Safety and Health Program
The success of any workplace safety and health program depends on careful planning. This means that you must take the time to analyze what you want to accomplish and develop an action plan in order to attain your goals. From this standpoint, you can design a step-by-step process to take you from the idea stage to an effective safety and health management system.

Establish your management commitment and involve your employees. No safety and health program will work without this commitment and involvement. The first step is to designate a person to be responsible for your safety and health program.

Involve your employees as widely as possible from the beginning. They are most in contact with the potential and actual safety and health hazards at your worksite and will have constructive input on the development of your program. The ultimate success of your safety and health program will depend on their support.

Make sure your program assigns responsibility and accountability to all employees in your organization. A good safety and health program makes it clear that each and every employee, from you through the supervisory levels to the line worker, carries responsibility for his or her part of the program. Make safety and health duties clear and hold every individual accountable for his or her safety- and health-related duties.

Refer to the recommended actions to take in Worksite Analysis. These will help start your program off on the right track. You will be building the foundation for a successful safety and health program.

Establish and regularly conduct a worksite analysis. A successful safety and health program depends on an accurate identification of all the hazards and potential hazards in your workplace. This is an ongoing process that includes routine self inspections.

Create systems and procedures to prevent and control hazards identified through your worksite analysis. OSHA standards can be helpful because they address controls in order of effectiveness and preference. The hierarchy of controls is engineering, administrative, work practice and PPE. Whenever feasible, engineering, administrative or work practice controls should be instituted even if they do not eliminate the hazard or reduce exposure. Use of such controls in conjunction with PPE will help reduce the hazard or exposure to the lowest practical level. Where no standard exists, creative problem-solving and consultant resources may help you create effective controls. The basic formula for controlling workplace hazards, in order of preference, includes:

  • Eliminating the hazard from the machine, the method, the material or the facility.
  • Abating the hazard by limiting exposure or controlling it at its source.
  • Training personnel to be aware of the hazard and to follow safe work procedures to avoid it.
  • Prescribing PPE for protecting employees against the hazard and ensuring that they not only use it, but that they know how to use it correctly.

Establish and provide ongoing training for employees, supervisors and managers to ensure that everyone at your worksite can recognize hazards and how to control them.

These points are crucial to a safe and healthful workplace for you and your employees, making it more difficult for accidents to occur and for workrelated health problems to develop.

Develop and Implement Your Action Plan
Developing an action plan to build a safety and health program around the four points can serve as a "road map" to take your program to where you want it to be. An action plan tells you what has to be done, the logical order in which to do it, who is responsible and where you want to be when you finish. It describes problems and solutions, but is not ironclad. An action plan can and should be changed to correspond with changes in the workplace.

A good action plan has two parts:

  1. A list of major changes or improvements to make your safety and health program effective. Each item should be prioritized, have a target date for completion and identify who is responsible for implementation.
  2. A specific plan to implement each major change or improvement, including what you want to accomplish, the steps required, who will be assigned to do what and a schedule for completion.

Once a plan is established, put it into action, beginning with the highest priority item. Ensure that it is realistic, manageable and addresses the steps you have planned for that item. A detailed description of the steps required will help you keep track of your progress. Keep in mind that you can work on more than one item at a time and that priorities may change as other needs are identified or as your company's resources change.

Open communication with your employees is crucial to the success of your efforts. Their cooperation depends on them understanding what the safety and health program is all about, why it is important to them and how it affects their work. The more you do to involve them in the changes you are making, the smoother your transition will be.

Putting your action plan into operation at your workplace will be a major step toward implementing an effective safety and health program.

A safety and health program is a plan put into practice
Keep your program on track by periodically checking its progress and by calling on a state consultant when you need assistance.

Any good management system requires periodic review. Take a careful look at each component of your safety and health program to determine what is working well and what changes are needed. Once again, a state consultant can assist you in this area. Any necessary improvements can be turned into new safety and health objectives for the coming year. Developing new action plans to implement these improvements will continue progress toward an effective safety and health program, reduce your safety and health risks, and increase efficiency and profit.

It is important to document your activities. The best way to evaluate the success of your safety and health program is to have documentation of what you have done, which provides guidance on how you can make it work even better.

Technical assistance may be available to you as a small business owner or manager through your insurance carrier; your fellow business-people; suppliers of your durable equipment and raw materials; the local safety council; and many local, state and Federal agencies, including the state on-site Consultation Programs and closest OSHA Area Office.

Establishing a quality safety and health management system will take time and involve some resources, but you should be pleased with the results. Employees will feel reassured because of your commitment to their safety and health on the job. You may save money through increased productivity and reduced workers' compensation insurance costs. You may gain increased respect in your community. The tangible and intangible rewards for a solid safety and health program far outweigh the cost of an accident, injury or workplace fatality.

 

Information courtesy of the U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety & Health Administration.

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