Managing Safety and Health

A safety and health system for your business

As an employer, it is your responsibility to maintain a safe and healthy workplace. A safety and health management system, or safety program, can help you focus your efforts at improving your work environment. Whatever you call it, your plan describes what the people in your organization do to prevent injuries and illnesses at your workplace.

Your organization will have its own unique system, reflecting your way of doing business, the hazards of your work, and how you manage the safety and health of your employees:

  • If you manage a small business in a low-risk industry, your system may simply involve listening to your employees' concerns and responding to them.
  • A large business in a hazardous industry may have notebooks full of written policies and procedures and a full-time safety director.

What's most important is that your system works for your organization. It's up to you to decide how best to operate a safe and healthy workplace, and to put your plan into practice.

"The discipline that goes into a safety program will spill over into production and quality control. People will be more aware of safety and how they do their jobs. We believe it will work to our benefit with production and quality."

Ben Church, Kaiser Industries

What makes a successful system?

A successful system will be part of your overall business operation, as important as the other things you do to succeed in business.

Successful safety and health systems have the following in place:

"… we’ve had the employees involved with safety. They are aware of what’s going on and at this plant there is a culture of people who constantly are looking out for each other and if they see that someone is doing something unsafe or risky, they are going to say something to them. They are not afraid to go directly to that person and say, you should have your hair tied back, or your safety glasses on, or you shouldn’t really be reaching into there."

Ken David, Pride Manufacturing

Take a look at your safety and health system. Some components may be strong and others may need to be strengthened. The following sections describe these key factors and give ideas about how to make them part of your program. And remember, if you operate one of many thousands of small businesses in Maine, your system can be simple and largely informal.

Use the following as a practical guide and adapt it to your needs. Because small businesses often cannot afford in-house safety and health professionals, you may need help setting up your system. You can call SafetyWorks! --- our services are free and confidential. Your workers' compensation insurance provider, your industry organization, or a private consultant may also be able to help.

I. Make a commitment

Put as much energy into your commitment to safety and health as you put into any other important part of your business. Make sure to include workplace safety and health in your business plan and integrate it into all facets of the business.

  • Write a policy that emphasizes the importance you place on workplace safety and health.
  • Commit the resources (time, money, personnel) needed to protect your employees.
  • Begin meetings with a safety topic.
  • Encourage employee participation in safety and health.
  • Let employees know they will be expected to follow safe work practices if they work for your business. And follow them yourself.
  • Respond to all reports of unsafe or unhealthy conditions or work practices.
  • If injuries or illnesses occur, make it your business to find out why.
  • Go beyond the regulations; address all hazards, whether or not they are covered by laws.

II. Involve employees

In a safe and healthy workplace, employees have a stake in the success of the program --- safety and health is everyone's responsibility. Actively encourage employee involvement if you want your program to succeed. Hold people accountable and makes sure everyone does their part.

  • Establish an active workplace safety and health safety committee.
  • Make daily safety inspections part of some employees' jobs.
  • Keep employees informed about safety inspections, injury and illness statistics, and other safety-related issues.
  • Give everyone a meaningful activity that supports safety.
  • Value employee input and feedback. Employees often know more about safety problems and solutions than managers do.
  • Make sure employees help review and improve the program.
  • Hold employees accountable
    • Include safety and health responsibilities in job descriptions. Make following safe work practices part of performance evaluation.
    • Set safety goals and hold everyone accountable.
    • Discipline employees who behave in ways that could harm themselves or other.
    • Establish a clear system for reporting hazards, injuries, illnesses and close calls.
    • Recognize employees who contribute to keeping the workplace safe and healthy.

III. Identify and control hazards

Before you can control hazards you need to know what the hazards are. Here are some ways to identify safety and health hazards:

  • Review records of accidents, injuries, illnesses, and close calls
  • review OSHA logs, first aid logs, workers' compensation reports, complaints, and close calls
  • look for trends or common factors in
    • kinds of injuries or illnesses
    • parts of body
    • time of day/shift
    • location
    • equipment
    • protective equipment
    • department
  • Survey employees
  • Review inspection reports from enforcement inspections, insurance surveys, or consultations.
  • Learn the OSHA regulations that have to do with your workplace.
  • Inspect your workplace for safety and health problems, current and potential. SafetyWorks! consultants can help you survey your workplace.
    • Use checklists to locate dangerous conditions.
    • Watch employees work to spot unsafe work practices.
    • Perform Job Hazard Analysis.
    • Conduct air and noise sampling where exposures exist.

Once you know the hazards, you can decide how to control them.

  • Prioritize the hazards you found
    • Which are most likely to cause serious injury or illness?
    • Which can you fix immediately?
    • Do you have to make long term plans to correct some of the hazards?
  • Make a plan for correcting the hazards
    • Conduct job hazard analysis to identify how best to correct the hazards
    • Find out best practices from companies in your industry
  • Correct the hazards
    • Engineering controls eliminate the hazards through safe tools, facilities, and equipment. These are the best controls.
    • Administrative controls don't remove the hazards; they reduce exposure by changing the work practices. For instance, rotating workers, rest breaks, training programs.
    • Personal protective equipment puts a barrier between the employee and the hazard, using, for example, gloves or safety shoes. If you use personal protective equipment, you have to assess the hazard beforehand and train employees the right way to use the equipment.
  • Evaluate the changes to make sure they have corrected the problem and not created other hazards. And periodically re-survey the work environment and work practices.

IV. Comply with regulations

Employers must identify the OSHA regulations that apply in their workplaces and comply with them. SafetyWorks! classes and consultations can help with this.

V. Train Employees

Train personnel about the hazards they may be exposed to at work and how to protect themselves. Keep records of all training. Provide:

  • General safety orientation for new employees and employees starting new jobs, including company safety regulations and emergency procedures.
  • Specific training on the hazards of their jobs and how to do their jobs safely. (Many OSHA standards include specific training requirements)
  • Retraining
    • As required by the standards
    • When jobs change
    • When employees return from long absence
    • As needed to ensure employees know how to do their jobs safely.

VI. Support a culture of safety

Workers hold safety as a value; they actively care about themselves and others. Mutual respect is the norm.

  • Establish effective two-way communication. Respond to the needs and concerns of workers.
  • Make sure management goes beyond the regulations to ensure a safe workplace.
  • Encourage workers to go "beyond the call of duty" to ensure a safe workplace.
  • Support a work environment that fosters trust, creativity, and general well-being.
  • Celebrate your success with SHARP or other recognition programs.

VII. Continually improve your system

Review your program's strengths and weaknesses. Does it accurately reflect how you want to manage safety and health?

  • Use OSHA's Safety and Health Program Assessment to find out how you're doing.
  • Review annually and as needed
  • Investigate accidents, injuries, illnesses and close calls as they occur.
  • Conduct frequent (daily, weekly as needed) inspections of specific equipment and processes.
  • Evaluate your injury and illness statistics
  • Document all your safety efforts.
  • Change analysis: Review new and changed processes, materials, facilities and equipment for hazards
  • Ensure hazard correction systems are in place and working
  • Evaluate effectiveness of training
  • Listen to your staff: Do employees know the hazards of their jobs and how to work safely? Are managers enforcing safe work practices and praising safe behavior?