How to Start a Health and Safety Management System

Your facility probably has many written safety procedures—hazard communication or emergency response, for example—but do you have a comprehensive health and safety management system (HSMS)? OSHA mandates many kinds of safety plans, but there is no federal mandate regarding a health and safety system that covers all other safety plans (though some states do require one). This system governs how safety works in your facility and gets everyone involved.

If OSHA doesn’t require an HSMS system in your state, then why bother implementing one? While a safety system does require a lot of work, the benefits are numerous. Not only will employee morale improve, the number and severity of injuries will be reduced and production may actually increase. Safety, it turns out, is good for business. OSHA also recognizes businesses that have used effective HSMS to achieve lower-than-average injury and illness rates through their Voluntary Protection Programs. Data suggests companies that have developed these kinds of safety systems have seen positive results. According to OSHA:

“Companies in OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program, VPP, all of whom have implemented comprehensive safety and health management systems, experience lost workday incidence rates that are 60% to 80% lower than their industry counterparts. They also experience reduced absenteeism and turnover, improved productivity, and lower Workers’ Compensation costs. Safety and health management works and adds to the company’s bottom line profits.”

Getting a health and safety system started at your workplace takes a lot of legwork, so let’s take a look at how to begin and how to get everyone from management to employees on the work floor involved.

Management Leadership

For a health and safety system to be effective, it can’t just be left entirely up to a safety manager. Management needs to set the tone for the program and demonstrate their commitment to it by providing necessary policies, resources and accountability. The first step to achieving this is for management to create clear documents explaining the purpose and methods of the program. Keep in mind a HSMS is not just a written document. During the initial stage of setting up an HSMS, though, ideas will need to be turned into concrete written statements.

Policies, Goals, Objectives, Action Plans

Written documents tend to fill up with buzzwords like goals and plans, but a good HSMS differentiates between these things to help clarify what people need to do and why they’re doing it. Management should start out by putting together a policy statement, which is a bit like a vision statement for safety. This statement will explain the value the company places on safety and it will help the company determine what safety measures to invest in in the future; if an investment would help achieve the company’s vision for safety, it may be worth spending money on.

According to OSHA:

“Safety should become elevated so that it is a value of the organization as opposed to something that must be done or accomplished. Integrating safety and health concerns into the everyday management of the organization, just like production, quality control, and marketing allows for a proactive approach to accident prevention and demonstrates the importance of working safety into the entire organization.”

To make this general policy statement specific, management needs to put together goals and objectives. Goals are things the company wants to accomplish like reducing the amount of injuries during a certain period or involving more employees in the safety program. To achieve goals you’ll need objectives, which are tangible tasks that can be accomplished. For example, if a goal is to reduce injuries from repetitive motion this quarter, objectives could be to have stretch breaks every few hours during a shift or to do a weekly walk-through to observe ergonomics. OSHA points out objectives should be realistic and measurable. Someone should be able to check and make sure the objectives are met on time.

chart, whiteboard

Finally, an action plan will help ensure those objectives are carried out. This involves determining who will be in charge of each objective, how soon it needs to be accomplished and whether resources like money and equipment will be necessary.

Basically, management needs to start with the general—why the company values safety—and move toward specific plans that support that initial safety policy statement. Only making general statements and goals likely means those great ideas will never be accomplished. Getting more specific about the who, what, where, when and how of those ideas will help make them a reality.

Assign Responsibilities

For employees to take a new HSMS seriously, they need to see management takes it seriously. This means responsibilities need to be assigned so everyone has a clear role in safety. These responsibilities will vary widely, since owners and executives will have very different tasks than safety managers, supervisors and lower-level employees. You also need to make sure everyone has the resources they need to perform their assignments including proper training and equipment.

Additionally, safety needs to be enforced. If supervisors see things happening on the jobsite that go against objectives or violate rules and responsibilities, they need to deal with those situations right away. Supervisors and management need to be on the same page because supervisor actions reflect back on management. If supervisors ignore safety problems on a day-to-day basis, employees will likely think management doesn’t take the health and safety system seriously.

On the other hand, supervisors should also recognize good behavior so employees can see what management expects. In the long run, employees will be more likely to continue safe behaviors if they receive positive reinforcement. For example, reprimanding an employee for not using proper PPE will be less effective than praising an employee for following procedures.

Employee Involvement

Providing safety training for employees isn’t enough to keep them involved in your new safety system. According to a paper published by the American Society of Safety Engineers, employees need to be active participants in safety programs. By increasing employees’ levels of engagement with the program, the workplace will be safer and more efficient.

To increase engagement, try involving employees in all parts of the safety system:

  • Consult employees when creating safety procedures.
  • Encourage employees to submit suggestions about how to improve safety.
  • Involve employees in hazard and accident investigation.
  • Recognize those employees whose ideas you implement.
  • Discuss possible changes with employees (such as significant changes to operations or simple changes like selecting new PPE).

When employees are asked for their opinions and allowed to participate in the development of safety procedures, they will take ownership of the program and be more likely to fully participate. This scenario is preferable to a system where employees think safety managers are just there to enforce rules. When employees are part of the rule-making discussions, they will also better understand the reasons for those rules. Ultimately, the employees are the ones who will be most directly impacted by safety procedures, so they should understand why safety is important for them, not just because regulations or
company policy says so.

Keep Safety a Priority

Once you have a health and safety management system in place to oversee all your safety procedures and help create a culture of safety, you need to make sure it remains effective. Adequate training, mechanisms for hazard assessment and plans for implementing updates need to be put in place. Furthermore, make sure you regularly evaluate the objectives set forth in your system. Are you making progress to achieve your goals? Keep records of improvements as well as areas that require more work. Adjust goals over time and set new ones.

Consider putting safety front and center throughout the workplace as well. Post visual reminders or safety posters that reinforce the safety discussions you have with employees.

Getting an HSMS system set up is a significant portion of the battle, though, so work with management to get a program going. If done effectively, your workplace will likely see many positive results.

Additional Resources