When developing a safety program one of the first things you should do is lay out the safety roles and responsibilities for everyone at the organization.  Just because there’s a safety manager, does not mean that no one else has safety responsibilities.  Safety is part of everyone’s job.

Even if the safety program has been around for a while it is always a good idea to review and update these regularly.  Having responsibilities laid out on paper gives them the more authority and clears up any confusion as to who should be doing what.


The decision on the details of roles and responsibilities should fall to the executive management team – which the safety manager is a part of.  Safety can’t make these decisions alone – that is not how you get management support.  So, it is important that the executive management team is involved in most safety decisions.

When the management team is involved in safety decisions, it is so much easier to get the job done. 

There is little to no push back when implementing programs or holding supervisors accountable.  Their boss (or their boss’ boss) was part of the decision, so they can’t tell you no.

When the safety manager tries to dictate responsibilities – that’s when things will start to fall apart.


Responsibilities for safety should be outlined to all employees as well as management.  If you don’t lay out the expectations of working safely and following safety rules, employees will make their own expectations – I can guarantee, safety will not be their priority.

The same holds true for management.  If it is not laid out that following safety rules and making sure their staff follows them is their responsibility and is expected, they will set their own expectations.  Unfortunately, when that happens, safety is usually put last on their list.

Places that safety responsibilities should be included are:

  • Job descriptions
  • Commitment or Accountability Statements
  • Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)


Sometimes, all safety responsibilities get dumped onto the safety manager’s lap.  The executive team may think “We have a safety manager, anything related to safety is all theirs and I’m not touching it”.

This is not a good practice.  The safety manager creates the materials, develops the programs, inspects and audits; but they should not be doing everything themselves.  They are not a “Player”, they are a Support Coach.

Let’s put this in the perspective of sports.  It is the team owner’s job to give the resources to the team management to win the game (Executives vs. Managers).  It is the team manager’s job to make sure everything is running smoothly, they listen to experts, and the hold their coaches accountable (Department Managers vs. Front Line Supervisors). It is the coach’s job to make sure the players are working to their true potential, mentoring, giving advice, and coaching to excellence (Front Line Supervisors vs. Employees).

In this scenario, the safety manager is the expert who helps the managers support their coaches – the front-line supervisor.  Safety is the coach of the coaches.  But they are not actually playing the game – they are not the enforcers or coaches of players/employees.

Models where the safety manager is the only one doing safety just don’t work well.  Safety cannot enforce safety rules because the employees and management don’t report to them.  They don’t have the ability to deliver consequences – a key component in accountability.  This is why it is up to department managers and front-line supervisors to build the safety culture.

infographic showing the different levels of people in the organization and their responsibility for safety


“If the management team is responsible for building a safety culture, what the heck is safety doing?”  I hear this all the time.  Anyone who has seen a safety manager’s job description has no worries that we have plenty of work to do.  I wrote a pretty long article outlining everything a safety manager is responsible for; check it out “What is a Safety Manager?

Generally, as a safety manager you want to focus on:

  • Communicating compliance to regulations
  • Developing vs implementing improvement programs
  • Managing incidents
  • Auditing and assessing
  • Inspections
  • Ensuring staff is trained; including coaching management
  • Improving compliance to safety program

Management and Employee Responsibilities

When we say that everyone has responsibilities in safety, that includes management (at all levels) and employees.  Here are some examples of what you want these positions to focus on for safety.


  • Supporting safety and setting the expectations
  • Providing resources for safety
  • Participating in creating safety goals and continuous improvement plans
  • Participating in decisions on safety program development
  • Including the safety manager in any business change discussions
  • Holding the management team accountable for safety responsibilities

Managers & Supervisors

  • Lead by example by following all safety rules
  • Ensure staff is properly trained
  • Coach their staff to excellence in safety
  • Utilize the safety manager for information and guidance
  • Involve the safety manager in any process changes
  • Hold their staff accountable for following safety expectations


  • Follow all safety rules
  • Never do a task you are not trained for
  • Speak up when you recognize a safety hazard
  • Participate in safety training

Communicate responsibilities

Now that you have laid out your roles and responsibilities, you have to communicate them.  Without telling everyone who is responsible for what, they will not be followed, or the team won’t respect who’s supposed to be doing what. 

Roles and responsibilities should be discussed multiple times.  In fact, I used to start my executive advisory meetings with a review of management’s teams individual safety responsibilities, as well as, their responsibilities on the committee.

Here are some different times to communicate safety responsibilities:

  • Time of hire
  • Annually
  • Quarterly town hall or all-hands meetings
  • Reminders at staff meetings
  • Performance reviews
  • Post them in the break area

Now it’s your turn

I would love to hear from you.  Leave a comment below and tell me how you lay out the safety responsibilities at your facility and how you communicate them to the entire staff.

Hi, I'm Brye (rhymes with sky)!  I am a self-proclaimed safety geek with two decades of general industry safety experience.  Specializing in bringing safety programs to a world-class level and building a safety culture, I have trained and coached many safety managers, just like you, on how to effectively manage workplace safety in the real world.   I would love to help you too.

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