There are typically two forms of written safety rules used in safety management. Standard Operating Procedures or Written Safety Policies. The SOPs tell you how to work safely and the safety policies tell you why the rules are in place.
You can have both.
For example, you may have a complete hazardous energy control program (or lockout tagout program). It can include a written safety policy and a list of safe work practices. Plus, it can have step-by-step procedures to lock out specific machinery.
The two forms of written rules work together.
MAKING YOUR SAFETY POLICIES A REFERENCE DOCUMENT
Most of the time, your management team and workers are more interested in the “How” to do the job and not the “Why” we do it this way. This results in safety policies collecting dust on the shelf.
The truth is, they’re an excellent reference document.
Safety policies are the best way to root out what needs to be changed whenever there’s an incident. Or if there’s a change in processes.
YOUR SAFETY POLICIES MUST BE EASY TO READ
You’re not alone if you picked up a safety policy template to use as your own. Especially if you only changed the company name in the document. That is how many of the off-the-shelf safety programs are designed. They make it seem simple and easy to get your company into compliance.
But, these programs are created to cover a wide variety of businesses and industries. So they end up creating safety policies that are just a repeat of the safety regulation.
They’re full of a lot of legal jargon. This protects the company you’re buying them from, plus it covers all the bases they can think of.
If you’re using these templated safety policies, read through them thoroughly. Make all the changes necessary to make them easy for your team to use.
IT’S MORE IMPORTANT THAT YOUR TEAM UNDERSTANDS THE SAFETY POLICY THEN HOW IT’S WRITTEN
Yes, your safety policies can be in place to meet regulatory requirements. Some regulations require specific sections in your policy.
But that doesn’t mean that you need to write them like you’re in Congress writing a new law.
Make it so your employees and managers can easily understand the material. Don’t just copy the regulation into your safety policy.
Don’t make your policy a repeat of what they can read in the regulation book sitting on the shelf next to it.
For example, this:
Hazardous conditions on walking-working surfaces are corrected or repaired before an employee uses the walking-working surface again. If the correction or repair cannot be made immediately, the hazard must be guarded to prevent employees from using the walking-working surface until the hazard is corrected or repaired.
Can be turned into this:
All hazards must be repaired before working. If it isn’t possible, protect the area to prevent any accidents until the repair can be made.
USE THE KISS METHOD
Keep it simple. Your safety policies, although there are several sections to them, need to be simple and to the point.
You don’t want your employees or managers reading a novel to understand why a safe work practice is in place.
- Write your policy or use a template.
- Go through and remove any unnecessary verbiage. Adverbs or adjectives only result in fluff. Use them sparingly. This will make your policy more concise.
- Define any complicated words that a non-safety professional would not understand. Instead of saying “egress” use the word “exit”.
- Note any non-laymen’s terms to add to your definitions section.
- Read it again with the goal of cutting it down by 30%. Prune that policy until it is only a few pages long.
- Ask an employee to read it and make sure it is easy to understand.
NEATNESS COUNTS WITH SAFETY POLICIES
Making sure your employees are following the safety rules is more important than how pretty your safety policies look. If you believe this, you’re right. But you’re also wrong.
Organization matters when it comes to OSHA inspections, third-party audits, and legal scrutiny. Standardizing your safety policies makes this easier.
Always use a consistent format.
Have the same sections in the same order for every policy. (click here to download the safety policy checklist)
Maintain all your safety policies the same way. Any binders should have matching tabbed sections.
Making it look like you’re organized will sway auditors to your favor.
CREATING STANDARDIZED SECTIONS TO YOUR SAFETY POLICIES
Regardless of the type of policy, the sections of your safety policies should all match. This makes it easier to read.
It’s like when you walk into a Wal-Mart. Whether you’re in New York or California, you always know where to find the snack section.
This is standardization. And you can do the same with your policies. I have created a checklist of all the sections you should include in all your policies.
Think of your written safety policies as a sandwich. You have the first part that sets up the safety policy. Then you have the meat of your policy, what the rules are. Lastly, you follow that up with the extras.
The What, Why, Who
Scope, Summary, Responsibilities
The Main Sections
Policy, Procedures, Details
Training, Recordkeeping, Definitions, Disciplinary action, Questions, etc…
TWO IMPORTANT AREAS FOR EASE OF USE
There are two sections of your safety policies that you always want to include in the beginning. This will make your policies easy to use.
These sections tell the readers if they’re looking in the right place. There is nothing more frustrating than reading 15 pages of safety jargon. Only to find out that the safety policy doesn’t even apply to your department or task.
Policy Statement or Summary
This is a small paragraph or two that describes what the policy is for and the basic requirements of the policy. After reading this section, the reader would know if they’re in the right policy, to begin with.
The purpose of this policy is to comply with the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard found in 29 CFR 1910.1200. To protect employees, exposure to hazardous chemicals will be minimized or reduced. All potential hazards of chemicals will be evaluated and communicated to employees. Appropriate protective measures to employees and other persons will be followed.
This section tells the reader who the safety policy applies to. For this section, you can list the company as a whole or be specific to departments, job titles, or tasks.
This is not the same as the responsibilities section. This is who it applies to, not what they should be doing.
This policy applies to all employees and contractors conducting work on company property. This policy applies to any known chemical that employees may be exposed to. Including under normal work conditions or in a foreseeable emergency.
Pick out one of your current safety policies and put them through a review. Is it easy to read? Is there any fluff that can be deleted? Do you have all the sections listed in the Safety Policy Checklist?
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN
Having safety policies that are easy to read is great. The location of your safety policies is another aspect to ease of use. Are your policies accessible to anyone at any time?
In the comments below, tell me how you maintain your safety policies?
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.