4 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Let Accidents Drive Safety Policies

When accidents happen, your management team might feel upset. Possibly because of the claims costs or the injuries that it caused to their workers. And because of this, they might pressure you into creating a safety policy that will address the cause of the accident.

At first, it might seem like a good idea because, after all, we don’t want the same accident to happen again. However, creating safety policies in reaction to accidents will make your job harder. Let’s talk about the reasons why.

Safety Policies Can Create Unexpected Results

Unnecessary safety policies, which are driven by accidents, usually aren’t well thought out. So, because they’re usually rushed, it doesn’t consider all the stakeholders and all the other existing safety policies in place. For example, you might have separate policies for every PPE like you have a policy for safety shoes, safety masks, and so on.

And this can result in conflicting statements which can create confusion on how to do certain jobs. So, not only does this leave the workers confused, but it also slows down the overall work efficiency.

Safety Policies Can Be Exploited in Legal Proceedings

Policies are discoverable materials in legal proceedings when accidents happen. Regardless if the policy is a required one based on regulations or if it’s a policy unique to the company, lawyers will be able to discover if you have policies that aren’t updated and aren’t being followed then you’ll have to properly explain. If you can’t, then the liability to the company increases.

Now, as we’ve previously said, safety policies driven by accidents can produce unexpected results which can make it hard for workers to follow them. And this will be discovered in the investigations and possibly exploited during legal proceedings.

But there are practices you can put in place way before an accident happens to prevent a Workers’ Comp Lawsuit. And maintaining a positive relationship between the management team and employees is one of the essential things to avoid a lawsuit.

Safety Policies Need to be Maintained and Updated

When OSHA conducts a visit to your company, they will check your safety policies. And they will check if your policies are according to the regulations that they’ve set. And even if the safety policies meet the regulations, they will still check if each and every policy is maintained and updated. Also, keep in mind that OSHA has some qwerky rules that you need to know first when you’re writing new safety policies.

Now complying with this requirement takes up a lot of time. Imagine if you have a lot of policies in place. Imagine the time it will consume just for you to keep it updated. Thus, will affect other areas of your job.

Managing policies might fall to the bottom of your to-do list, but it’s arguably one of the most critical tasks. So, it’s better for you to have an effective way of managing policies like a Safety Professional.

Safety Policies Might Hinder Progress

As we’ve said, safety policies that are driven by accidents are not well thought out. And this can hinder your progress as well as the company. It’s like handcuffing yourself.

For example, due to an accident, you’ve created a policy that states that you will only do a certain high-risk job in one way. But, after a few months, a new technological innovation comes up and you want to apply it. However, due to company policy, it isn’t possible to do so. And, if you want to change the policy, you’ll have a lot of processes to go through which will take up a lot of time.

Take Action

So when it comes to policy changes after an accident, take it slow. If there is an imminent danger or a high likelihood of reoccurrence, definitely put interim controls in place until the corrective action can be implemented. Interim controls can be your saving grace – OSHA loves them, and you can use them to test your options for your corrective actions.

And as you are updating your safety policy, use the Safety Policy Checklist you can download here for free.

orange document icon with down arrow indicating download

To help you out, I created a Safety Policy Checklist you can download for free.

Don't Create Safety Policies Because Of An Accident

Safety Brye: [00:00:00] When an accident happens and the cause is investigated, some teams, they like to make rash decisions, especially when it's a serious accident. They're upset that it happened. They feel responsible and they may be looking to you to put controls in place as quickly as possible, but does that mean that you should throw together a policy or change an existing policy?

Let's talk about the problems of reactive policy changes.

Hey there, safety friends. Welcome to the Safety Geek Podcast. I'm Brye Sargent CSP and 20 years safety professional. After spending years training safety leaders across the globe for a large corporation and creating safety programs from the ground up over and over again. I am now sharing my processes and strategies with you. At the Safety Geek, you will learn how to manage an

[00:01:00] effective safety program that increases your management support, and employee engagement, all the while helping you elevate your position and move up in your career. If you're ready to step into the role of a safety influencer and leader. You're in the right place.

Let's get to it. Hello. Hello. Hello, my safety friend. How is this first week of 2023 treating you. Today, I wanna talk to you about safety policies. Now safety policies are an administrative control that too often I see organizations go like safety policy, crazy. Like for every issue, they wanna create a policy, and for every accident they're creating a policy to prevent it from ever happening again.

But I believe that you should never allow accidents to drive your safety policies. When that happens,

[00:02:00] you end up actually handcuffing yourself. So let's talk about why this is an issue and what the alternative is. So in safety management, there are several different types of documents that we can use as administrative controls, right?

There are policies, there are procedures. There are guidelines, there are memos. You might throw SOPs and JHAs in there. I kind of throw those into the procedures bucket, and the way that I actually teach my students in Safety Management Academy to do this is that procedures tell you what to do. It is the exact steps of the job. Policies tell you why to do it a certain way.

It's the broader concept of the rules. And then we use guidelines or memos to answer questions and to share

[00:03:00] interpretations of the policies or procedures. So like after you release policies and procedures, there might be questions that come up, or How do we apply this? You'll especially see this if you have multiple locations.

People are wondering how they apply it in their own location. So instead of changing the policy or procedure, you can put guidelines into place as to what you actually expect them to follow. Now you always want your policies to be very broad and overarching, and in the show notes, I actually have a link to a safety policy checklist that will guide you through what I think should be included in every safety policy.

And policy should be specific to a category of an issue, not specific to a job task. So for example, if you have a hazardous energy control policy, some people like to call it a lockout tagout policy, but when you actually use the term hazardous energy

[00:04:00] control, it's much more broad and overarching than lockout tagout, which is locking out the machine.

Correct. So we're controlling the hazardous energy. And the policy is about who's involved, what it is, and when to control the hazardous energy. And it will list the general rules that cover all the areas in regards to when to do lockout tagout and what tools to be used and who is responsible for what, however, the exact details.

Of how you lock out the machine and what the steps that you need to follow when you're performing lockout tagout or like what situations you need to lock out that machine. Those are actually covered in procedures. Now when you're writing a policy, you might wanna include your procedures in it as well, but procedures end up being living documents because they change as procedures change. In a lockout tagout case, that's something you actually want to

[00:05:00] review on an annual basis. So what we end up doing is keeping 'em separate in like an SOP book as opposed to inside the policy itself. So you're separating the two and the policy ends up becoming the like, why we lockout tagout. What is the general like, Hey, we wanna use, you know, key to like, or.

Key differently, or we wanna use yellow for this color and red for this , for this task. You know, just the general broad view that covers the entire organization and then the procedures end up being like by machine or by task or anything like that. So that's the difference between the two. The thing about policies is, is that some of them are required by regulation, and if a regulation definitely requires a policy, then you need to have it in place.

But too often we're putting policies in place when a regulation doesn't require it. It's just another policy. And if a

[00:06:00] regulation does not require the policy to be there, I want you to take a step back and really think about like, do I need to have this policy in place? And don't put one in place unless you have a very strong need for it.

So remember, policies and procedures are separate. You can have procedures in place. But you don't need to have an overarching policy because all you're gonna end up doing is handcuffing yourself. And the reason why I use that term is because whatever your policy is, you have to follow it. And if you have too many policies, you can end up creating problems, which I'll get to in a second.

So for example, hazard communication. It's actually like in the regulation that you have to have a written program, right? So yeah, you wanna have a hazard communication program. Now if you have a lot of machinery in your facility, you likely have a lot of machine guards, and there's a huge section in the OSHA regulations about machine guarding. Does that mean you have to have a machine guarding

[00:07:00] policy? No, you don't. Now, there are times where a policy's not required, but you might wanna put it in place, and the ones that I recommend are if it is a high hazard activity or a high incident event. So if you have your employees working somewhere where there's a likelihood somebody can get seriously injured, if they don't follow the policy, then have a policy in place, right?

Or if you have a history of a lot of incidents or accidents, you definitely wanna have a policy in place that's gonna help protect against those accidents and injuries. So that way. Yes, it's gonna protect against it, but also you're protecting yourself in case a regulator comes on board and says, Hey, what are you doing to make sure that you're protecting people? Another thing is, if your procedures are going against the normal industry practices,

[00:08:00] then you definitely wanna have a policy in place. And the reason for this is one for your workers, right? So if you've workers who've worked in your industry for a while and they're used to doing it one way, but you guys have a new and innovative way of doing it, that's way different than everybody else is doing.

You need to have that policy in place so that way you have a document that you can direct them to as to why you're doing it the way that you are. Secondly, I always like to protect against the possibility of regulators coming in. Or lawyers after an accident. Cause if you're going against industry norms, and you probably have a good reason for doing so, you need to be able to prove and explain why you're doing that, and a policy will help you do that.

Now, why I'm cautious about policy so much is that the rule of thumb is if you have a policy, you have to follow it. You are expected to follow your own policy. So when that

[00:09:00] lawyer, when that regulator comes on board and they get your policy from you, they're gonna see are you actually following it? So a lot of times we'll put policies in place because it is the thing that we want them to follow.

We want them to change what they're doing because this accident happened. So we're gonna put this policy in place and change everything so that way this accident doesn't happen again. But if they're not gonna follow it and you're not gonna enforce it, it becomes a useless policy. And then you can end up creating this precedent where you just don't follow your own policies.

And that becomes a larger issue when that serious accident happens, when that regulator comes on property, because now you have to explain why you're not following your own policies. Because remember, policies are discoverable in legal proceedings. Going back, like I've literally had lawyers who the accident happened

[00:10:00] 12 years ago and they are subpoena subpoenaing, I guess would be the term, but I got a subpoena for the policies that were in place 12 years ago.

So they are definitely discoverable in legal proceedings and they will exploit it. If you have policies that are outdated that you have not kept up to date or that are not being followed, all you're gonna end up doing is increasing the cost of the claim and the settlement. And that brings me to updating policies.

The more policies you have, the more work it is to maintain them and keep them updated, and that is something OSHA does not like. They do not like pulling a policy off the shelf and having to blow off the dust because it hasn't been updated in 10 years. They expect you to maintain your policies and even if the policy doesn't even change, let's say you wrote the policy five years ago and everything is exactly the same. They still expect it to have, have an update date

[00:11:00] on it, that you have looked at it and that you've said, yes, this is still enforce, this is still what we do. And I've been with OSHA and I've been at an organization where they updated their policies every five years and OSHA said, no, you need to do it more frequently than that.

They wouldn't tell them an exact number, but I think what they settled on was they were gonna do three years and then if something came up, then they would do it from there. And that's the other thing, I actually teach my students an SMA to try to keep their systems simple. A lot of people think policies need to be updated annually.

There's nothing that says that. So if you can spread it out so that way your time isn't spent updating policies, that's good too. So every two to three years is perfectly acceptable. But just remember, the more policies you have, the more time it's going to take to maintain them, right? And policies can also create unintended consequences. So this is why you need to make sure that when

[00:12:00] you're putting a brand new policy in place, or you're changing a current policy that is being well thought out, and that you've taken the time to include all the stakeholders. This is why new policies need to have time for revisions. So yeah, you may update your policy every two years, every three years, but if it's a brand new policy, it should probably be revisited in about two or three months, and that way you can go, okay, let me make any changes.

What did we forget in the policy? What issues have come up since then? What contradictions are out there? What are things that we need to change in it? New policies take several revisions. So after an accident, when they're saying, no, we need to throw a policy together, this is where it causes problems. You're doing it too quickly, and you also wanna look out for contradictions with other programs and policies.

I see this a lot with PPE. So we create a PPE policy, right? And we do a PPE hazard assessment as part of that policy, but then we

[00:13:00] release like a safety shoe program, which is a whole separate policy from the PPE policy. Or we have a fall protection policy, or we have a respiratory protection policy, respiratory protection, fall protection, safety shoes.

They're all PPE. They're all PPE. So if you can try to put them all into one. Now, admittedly, I have definitely done my fall protection and my respiratory protection separately. But I had reasons for that. And then in the PPE policy, it would have a fall protection section and it would say, see this policy, that's it.

I would not talk about fall protection in the PPE policy. So way, I didn't create any contradictions between the two. Respiratory protection because OSHA's looking for very specific things. I made sure that that was separate. And sometimes what'll happen with OSHA, is that you will get complaints in one policy area, and if you have it all combined into one big giant PPE

[00:14:00] policy, like if I had respiratory protection inside of my p e policy and they came on property to do an inspection, I would be handing over my entire PPE as opposed to just within the course and scope of their investigation.

So sometimes having it separate, there's an advantage, but the disadvantage is you could be creating contradictions. So this is another reason why policies should never be added without a lot of thought. This is why I don't like that reactive state of an accident happening. Throw policies together. So when an accident happens and your team is

I like to use the term yelling at you, but let's just say that they are strongly encouraging you to throw together and change the policies for whatever reason, thinking that that is what's gonna control the accident from happening. Just remind them that cooler heads prevail and that they could be hurting themselves in the long run, especially if you're making this rash

[00:15:00] decision and throwing a policy together that you're going to end up handcuffing yourself. And too many times I see people make policies that are way too detailed and then you're stuck within that scope. So for example, I'm currently working with a company with their video retrieval on the cameras within their facility, and they threw this policy together with, I mean, I say through together, but it took a lot of time and there were a lot of stakeholders involved, but there were things in there that they were not very clear.

That now people are wanting to use this new technology and they're handcuffed because the policy that was approved said it could only be used for these three things, let's say, right? No, we can only use this technology for these three things. Nothing more. I mean, I'm exaggerating here, but that's basically what's happening.

So then people come in with something outside of those three things and they're like, no, I need it. And it's like, no. Well, the

[00:16:00] policy says this, so we can't go beyond that. And the legal department would get upset. So what does that create? That creates a situation where people are gonna lie, people are gonna try to get around the policy.

It's whenever you have a policy that is that restrictive, it ends up creating these unintended consequences because people need to do their job and they're try and they will try to figure out a way to get that job done and get around that policy. So just remind your team, the cooler heads prevail. A broad and you know, overarching policy is way better than one that is telling you exactly what needs to be covered. And after an accident,

here's the thing, okay, so after an accident, when it happens, I'm not saying that you shouldn't change your policies or procedures, I'm just saying they shouldn't be done rationally. So you should definitely be reviewing all of your policies, all of your procedures, your SOPs and your JHAs, or JSAs, whatever you wanna call them, related to the task that was being performed at the time of the

[00:17:00] accident, right? That is definitely part of the discussion. And as you are reviewing them, you should be identifying whether or not there are any gaps. Now, typically what I teach in in Safety Management Academy is that you always start with your JHA you turn that into an SOP and then that SOP helps shape the policy or the guidelines that go along with it, and it becomes an entire program.

So typically if you find gaps, you're gonna be fixing them at the JHA stage. And then from the JHA stage, you would update your SOPs. Then you would decide, is this a policy change or is it just an SOP change? Right? But making changes can definitely be part of your corrective action. But what you have to remember is that policies and procedures are administrative controls.

They're not the holy grail of stopping accidents from happening again. This is when you get into substitution and engineering controls. Those can truly prevent accidents from happening again.

[00:18:00] Administrative controls are still dependent on human beings following those administrative controls, so you're better off in your corrective action

to develop systems that prevent them from doing that action again, that cause the accident, not relying solely on administrative controls or training. And changing a policy, remember, does not result in a quick response because anytime you change a policy, the correct measure that you take is you have to announce the change.

You might even need to get like sign off acknowledgement depending upon what the policy is. You have to train people on it to make sure they understand it. You have to then observe and measure the understanding of the policy change. You then may need to make revisions. The whole process to change a policy done right, takes a lot of time. So your management team who's all upset about a serious accident happening and

[00:19:00] telling you that you need to do something about it right away, throwing out a new policy just to say that you responded to an accident so you can move on, is not the right approach. In fact, if you're doing this frequently, it's actually gonna cause confusion because people can't remember what policy is currently in place.

Have you ever had anybody say that? Well, our current policies this, I know they're thinking about changing it to this, and do you know if that's been done yet? Yeah, I see that all the time. And you don't want a policy change to become the flavor of the week. People go, oh yeah, this is what they're having us do this week, but last week they had us do this.

And then people get into this wait and see approach just to see if the new policy sticks or if it's all just gonna go back to normal. When you apply a policy change in the right manner over time, it then sticks and it becomes a true policy change. And you also wanna caution against causing animosity among the workers. Right? You know, warehouse Joe was hurt. Now we have to, you know, jump through hoops

[00:20:00] to do our job. We used to be able to do it this way, but ever since he got hurt, I now have to do it this way, you know, so you don't wanna create that animosity between your workers. So with all that being said, what I wanna share with you is that having a solid response system and process for selecting the right corrective actions, And creating a thought out plan to implement those corrective actions is the best way to calm the hotheads after an accident.

Right? So after an accident happens and everyone's upset about the cost, or about the fact that it happened, or that somebody they know is seriously injured, you wanna calm them down. Having these processes in place that you follow all the time actually gives 'em confidence that they know it's going to be handled.

They know that you've got it covered and that you will take the steps to make sure that this doesn't happen again. That they don't have to intervene and be a hothead over the whole thing.

[00:21:00] And having recurring processes gives them the confidence in your ability to solve the problem, and it also lets them know that they will have a voice that will be heard when the decision is made.

So it ends up becoming more about the injured worker and taking care of them. And then everybody knows on the side an investigation's gonna happen. A corrective action will be chosen. We will have discussions about this and we will implement it the right way, and we are gonna stop this from happening in the first place.

Now, if there is an imminent danger or a high likelihood of recurrence, you definitely wanna put interim protections in place. Until a corrective action can be implemented. Now, interim controls can actually be your saving grace. I love interim controls, and OSHA loves them too. So this is where an accident happened. You recognize that there's a danger. You're not sure or haven't decided how to fully

[00:22:00] correct for it, but in the meantime, this is what we're going to do. You know? So a great example of this is I actually had a piece of machinery where the estop went out. And we have controls in place. We knew what we were gonna do to fix it, but in the interim, this is how we protected our workers.

So OSHA loves that you do that and I definitely recommend that you track it on whatever tracking system that you have. So that way if that knock of the door from from OSHA comes, you can actually show like, no. When we identify a hazard, we put in our interim controls in place when needed. So definitely do that.

But here's the other thing about interim controls, why I say that interim controls are your saving grace is that it's a great way to test out your corrective actions. You can see if your idea of a corrective action will work by testing it out as an

[00:23:00] interim control. And if they are too cumbersome, they may even help you get your engineered control in place because your management will see you, like well, to protect against that hazard, these were the things we had to do.

And that was just way too time consuming. It made the job harder. What else can we do? And allows you to think of other corrective actions, but more importantly, they will be more apt to put in in engineered control as. So my solution to the hothead, in after an accident is put an interim control in place.

Don't change your policy, right? And as you're updating your safety policies, make sure that you're using the checklist that you can find in the show notes to help you keep your policies as broad as possible and make sure that they are applicable to your situation so that way you don't have policies that you don't need, that they are actually going to be abuse.

So thank you so much, my safety friend for listening to my policy rant. And I don't want you to think

[00:24:00] like I don't have a bunch of safety policies. I know that I probably maintained about 28 different safety policies, but they all had a purpose. And because I followed my system, I knew that they were all applicable.

So a lot of times, especially when you're going into an organization that doesn't necessarily have any safety programs in place, we try to jump the gun and put all these policies in place. So what I'm encouraging you to do is just to make sure that your policies are actually applicable and necessary because you don't want them to actually stall your progress because they are too constrictive.

I hope that makes sense, and I will chat with you next week. Bye for now.

Hey, if you're just getting started in safety or you've been at this for a while and are hitting a roadblock. Then I wanna invite you to check

[00:25:00] out Safety Management Academy. This is my in-depth online course that not only teaches you the processes and strategies of an effective safety management program, but how to entwine management support, and employee participation throughout your processes.

Are you ready to finally understand exactly what you should be doing and ditch that safety police hat forever? Then you have got to join me and your fellow safety scholars over at Safety Management Academy, just go to thesafetygeek.com/sma to learn more and to get started. That's thesafetygeek.com/sma and I will see you in our next students only live session.

Bye for now.

Highlights From This Episode:

  • Creating Safety Policies in Reaction to Accidents Makes the Safety Manager’s Job Harder
  • Safety Policies Driven by Accidents Can Produce Unexpected Results
  • Changing the Policy after the Incident Does Not Result in a Quick Response
  • Safety Policies Should Be Broad and Overarching
  • Why You Need to be Cautious About Safety Policies
  • What You Must Do as a Safety Manager to Calm the Hot-Heads After an Incident

Links Mentioned:


In summary, if an accident occurs, don’t let it push you into creating a policy. Because the truth is, it is not the immediate solution. It might even hinder your work. What you need is to take it slow, don’t let your management team pressure you into creating one, and consider all the options in order to create the best solution.

And don’t forget to download your Safety Policy Checklist!

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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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