Developing a Health and Safety Program

March 9, 2009
Commitment is key to keeping your workplace safer

Compliance begins with commitment and a health and safety program tailored to fit the company, to blend with its unique operations and culture and to help employers maintain a system that continually addresses a focus on prevention of workplace injuries and illnesses. Every effective program should include management commitment and leadership, employee involvement, workplace analysis, hazard prevention and control, safety and health training, and performance goals and measurement.

When OSHA comes in to evaluate your company, one of the first things it looks for is a written health and safety program along with training documentation and material safety data sheets (MSDS), if applicable. But I never tell a client we’re creating a health and safety program just to be OSHA compliant — we’re creating the program because it’s the right thing to do.

It’s also a good return on investment because preventing employee injuries saves the company money. Particularly for small or newer companies, avoiding downtime can make the difference in whether the company survives.

The team
The larger the firm, the easier it is to designate a health and safety officer. The smaller the company and the fewer the employees, the easier it is for health and safety measures to be overlooked or missed.

Responsibility for employee safety always rests at the top with the owner or manager, but typically it is the first line supervisor who is most capable of keeping workers safe. He or she has direct day-to-day contact with the workers and needs to be aware of what resources and tools are available. However, the safest companies are those where employers and employees work together to make safety and health a priority and a responsibility equal with production and quality.

This partnership can be achieved by involving employees in health and safety policymaking, committees, and posting the company’s written safety and health policy for all to see.

Management should show its commitment by investing time, effort, and money in the company’s safety and health program, abiding by all safety and health rules, and holding regular meetings that focus on employee health and safety.

Analyzing the problem
To conduct a worksite analysis, you and your employees must analyze all worksite conditions to identify and eliminate existing or potential hazards. This should be done on a regular, timely basis and there should be an up-to-date hazard analysis for all jobs and processes that all employees know and understand. There are a number of different web sites that have checklists that allow a quick internal health and safety audit.

It’s very important to involve your employees in the hazard analysis process and include their knowledge of the job and tasks. It will help minimize oversights, ensure a quality analysis and get workers to “buy in” to the solutions because they will share ownership in the health and safety program.

Review your worksite’s history of accidents and occupational illnesses that needed treatment, losses that required repair or replacement, and any ‘near misses’ in which an accident did not occur but could have. These are indicators that the existing hazard controls may not be adequate.

Discuss with your employees the hazards they know exist in their current work and surroundings. Brainstorm with them for ideas to eliminate or control those hazards. Don’t wait until your job hazard analysis is complete or an incident occurs to fix any problems that can be corrected easily.

An ounce of prevention
To maintain a good safety and health program, your work environment and work practices should be reviewed continually to control or prevent workplace hazards. Begin by regularly and thoroughly maintaining all equipment. Ensure that hazard correction procedures are in place and that all employees understand and follow safe work procedures. There are many good programs that include tools for recognition and control of workplace incidents that lead to injuries or illnesses. Many include time to observe workplace behaviors and education to prevent hazardous conditions.

Always make sure all employees that need personal protective equipment (PPE) know how to use and maintain their equipment. If your employees are on a site that contains hazardous waste and requires respirators, those workers need to be medically evaluated, fit tested, and trained to make sure they are healthy enough and understand how to wear a respirator. If the job requires working with any kind of chemical, MSDS must be readily available onsite. Making sure the gloves, body protection, or other barriers between chemicals and our skin are made of the proper materials is also critical in protecting workers. All of these preventative measures should be regarded as a basic part of good project management.

Training is essential
When I’m assisting a company (whether for complying with OSHA regulations or an effective program) and the company has limited resources, I look for the most egregious issues first, such as: has the company met its training obligations for equipment users, and is that training effective?

It is vital that everyone in the workplace be trained properly — from the supervisors to the managers, contractors, and part-time and temporary workers. To ensure your workers are thoroughly trained, hold emergency preparedness drills and train supervisors and managers to recognize hazards and understand their responsibilities ­— they are the front line in worker health and safety. Allow only properly authorized and instructed employees to do any job and pay particular attention to employees learning new operations to make sure they have the proper job skills and hazard awareness.

A health and safety plan is only as good as the company’s compliance with that plan. For a new company, a hazard assessment has to be made and a health and safety plan has to be in place before the first day of operation. Just like an equipment log ensures all equipment and tools are in good working condition, compliance with your health and safety program is an essential management tool, a good business practice, and a moral obligation.

Anticipating health and safety issues and taking action to prevent them is a long-term and profitable investment for companies. For more information on industrial hygiene and methods for promoting health and safety in the workplace, as well as a listing of industrial hygiene consultants, please visit the American Industrial Hygiene Association web site at

Gary Ganson is a certified industrial hygienist and a certified safety professional. He works as EHS group manager – environmental at Terracon in Lenexa, KS.