Special Topics in Safety Management

Are Your Policies Creating a Safer Workplace or Collecting Dust?

Safety and health policies that reflect commitment, define expectations, and articulate consequences can make a difference in protecting workers. How and what it takes to make that happen are subjects of today’s Advisor.

A safety policy is a plan that details how to manage safety and health issues. A good policy establishes commitment to managing risks and meeting legal duties. It also guides actions by stating principles and rules.

In order to achieve their important goals, safety policies must be living, breathing, integral parts of your organization’s operations. If they’re just a pile of papers sitting on a shelf that get little attention and less respect, they’re not going to do you and your employees much good.

Key Safety Policies

“There are certain key safety policies that every company needs to have,” says Roslyn Stone, chief operating officer of Corporate Wellness, Inc., based in Mount Kisco, New York. In particular, she cites policies that address OSHA-mandated programs such as bloodborne pathogens, lockout/tagout, confined spaces, electrical safety, and hazard communication.

Beyond these, Stone also recommends a “safe working policy.” Such a policy states that employees recognize their duty to follow established safety procedures, report hazards, and tell supervisors if other workers are not using safe practices.


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Drug-Free Workplace Policies

Stone believes as well that all organizations need a drug-free workplace policy. “Without one,” she says, “you will automatically attract the people who have left companies that do have these policies.”

A meaningful policy should clearly state the results of using drugs both inside and outside the workplace. Consequences will necessarily differ depending on the type of employment.

For example, a business that employs transportation employees or others in safety-sensitive positions might have zero-tolerance for workplace drug use. Another employer might provide for assessment and treatment if a worker is discovered using illegal drugs.

In Stone’s experience, about 25 percent of employers terminate for any kind of drug-related offense, regardless of where it occurs. Others have a one-strike rule for an off-the-job incident. That means a first offense is tolerated, but a second would result in job loss.


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Are You Doing This?

Stone offers these additional best practices for creating effective safety policies:

  • Integrate policies into operations by involving employees in creating them. Policies should reflect the reality of what employees are doing and are exposed to, not just the beliefs of top management.
  • Make sure orientation is not the only time employees are exposed to policies and procedures. Conduct an annual refresher on all policies, even if it’s not mandated by OSHA or another regulator. This is especially important if policies are primarily maintained online, and the majority of your workforce does not have regular computer access.
  • Consider establishing a policy to address emerging threats, such as H1N1 flu, violence, and others current safety and health concerns that impact the workplace.

Where does your organization stand when it comes to safety and health policies? Are yours dynamic documents that establish expectations and accountability? Or are they dusty files that haven’t kept up with your processes and personnel?

Consider reviewing and refreshing your policies. It’s not likely to be an easy task, but if you do it right, it can energize your safety and health programs and strengthen the compliance process.

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