How to develop workplace safety policies and procedures

Avoiding workplace injuries and illness starts with teaching your employees safe practices.

September 10, 2021

Article highlights

Every year, some 2.8 million workers are injured on the job, and more than 5,000 suffer work-related fatalities, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For every 100 employees, 3.4 filed workers compensation claims. While the costs vary by state, these claims average about $870 in weekly benefits, and employers take on some of the cost of this through private insurance premiums.

Each injury at work can cost an employer anywhere from $1,000 to $20,000 in direct costs, according to OSHA. But the indirect costs are even higher, ranging up to $40,000. Those include:

  • Lost production time
  • Time lost by the injured employee
  • Time lost by those helping the victim
  • Cleanup time
  • Time spent hiring and training a replacement worker
  • Property damage
  • Decreased morale among other workers
  • OSHA penalties

While there is no way to completely prevent workplace injuries from occurring, particularly in physically demanding or potentially dangerous professions, you can take steps to create the safest possible environment.

This effort starts with creating workplace safety policies and procedures. These will serve as a playbook for your employees, instructing them clearly in how to conduct their roles in a safe and responsible manner.

In this article, we’ll explore the ins and outs of workplace safety policy and the reasons that they’re so important for employers. Then we’ll look at the best practices for creating your own and explore some workplace safety policy templates.

What are workplace safety policies and procedures?

In the world of sports, there are rules that dictate how a game is played. Some of these rules are to create fairness and structure, and some of the rules are in place to keep players safe. For example, in football, it is illegal to hit another player in the head.

You can think of workplace safety policies and procedures in a similar way. They’re the rules set for your business that instruct employees on what they should and shouldn’t do in order to stay safe.

Workplace safety policy is the overarching document that serves as a set of guidelines to establish the importance of workplace safety. This is a 30,000 foot view of the operation describing the overall expectations.

Procedures, then, are the specific plans of action for carrying out the policy. These are specific instructions for how to safely go about the job and make sure policy is followed.

Importance of a workplace safety policy and procedure manual

As established above, injuries on the job are common, and they bring a significant cost both to the injured employee and to the employer. By not having a workplace safety policy and procedure manual in place, you not only run the risk of having more injuries, but you can face fines from OSHA and greater liability to lawsuits.

There are significant benefits, then, to adopting workplace safety policies and procedures. 

First and foremost, OSHA research has found that a strong workplace safety policy directly correlates with a safer workplace. You have fewer employee injuries, which means less lost time and less cost. It also means you’re protecting the health of your employees.

Additionally, by decreasing the number of on-the-job injuries, you reduce the cost of worker compensation payments and plans. This cost saving can more than make up for the investment in establishing policies and procures.

It also is a necessary step in limiting liability. If you either don’t have workers compensation insurance or if you can be proven to have caused a worker’s injury, you can be liable for damages in a potential civil lawsuit. By creating workplace safety policies and procedures, you limit your liability by showing that you are working to make the safest environment possible.

Lastly, by limiting time lost to injuries, these policies and procedures benefit you by improving operational efficiency. That boost in productivity will make an immediate impact on your bottom line.

How to develop workplace safety policies and procedures

You’re ready to take on the important work of developing or updating your workplace safety policies and procedures, but where do you start? There are steps to take and best practices to follow as you undertake this work, so that you end up with the best possible workplace safety policy, and one that is specifically suited to your needs.

Include employees

As a first step, be sure to include employees in the process. That way they have a stake in making this a success, and it makes clear that health and safety is the responsibility of everyone. This also means holding people accountable.

Some steps you can take:

  • Create a workplace safety and health committee
  • Have some employees conduct daily safety inspections
  • Inform employees about safety inspections, injury and illness data, and other safety issues
  • Solicit feedback from your employees, who typically know more about safety problems than their managers
  • Hold employees accountable by including safety responsibilities in their performance evaluation, setting clear safety goals, disciplining violations, and establishing a reporting system for hazards and injuries

Identify hazards

Next, you’ll want to conduct a survey of your operation to look for the hazards that could potentially cause injuries. As a starting point, review any records you have of accidents, injuries, illnesses, and close calls. You can find this information in:

  • OSHA logs
  • First aid logs
  • Workers compensation reports
  • Complaints

As you do this, look for trends or common factors. This can include types of injuries or illnesses, parts of the body that are injured, times of day when accidents occur, locations, equipment, protective gear, and department. You can also survey your employees to see if this accounting misses any information.

Finally, you should conduct a site inspection for your workplace, using checklists such as these to evaluate each location. Watch your employees at work to look for safety risks, and sample the air and noise for toxins or dangerous volume levels.

Control hazards

After you know the hazards present in your workplace, you can start the work of controlling them. To do this, first start by prioritizing the hazards. Which are the most likely to cause serious injury? Which ones can you fix immediately?

Then, make a plan for correcting or controlling the hazards. A job hazard analysis can help you develop this plan. Many industries also have best practices to deal with their specific dangers.

For some dangers, you can eliminate hazards by instituting safer tools or equipment. For those hazards that can’t be eliminated, you can reduce exposure by creating administrative changes such as safety training programs, rotating workers, and adding rest breaks.

You may also need to add more personal protective equipment for your workers, such as gloves or safety shoes.

Once you’ve completed this work, you should evaluate the changes to make sure they have addressed the problem. Plan to survey this work periodically to ensure lasting change.

Comply with regulations

Different industries have specific safety regulations, but all employers must comply with OSHA regulations. You will need to bring your workplace safety policies and procedures into compliance with OSHA standards, because if you don’t, you risk incurring fines.

If needed, you also must maintain OSHA records for your operation.

Train employees

The final step is to train your employees in your new workplace health and safety policy and procedure manual. This includes taking them through the hazards they could be exposed to on the job and explaining and demonstrating how they should protect themselves.

You’ll want to keep records of this training, which helps to reduce your liability.

Consider offering a general safety orientation for all new employees and those who are starting new jobs within your organization. Then give training to specific employees on the dangers that they will face and how to do their jobs safely.

Retrain your employees in these measures as required by OSHA standards, or when employees return from an absence. Also make sure that you are listening to employees, so that they can raise new safety concerns to you.

Workplace safety policy templates

While your specific operation will have unique safety concerns, it can be helpful to see how others have approached this task. By reviewing workplace safety templates and samples, you can learn from other organizations.

Here are some sample policies:

Remember, you can never absolutely prevent all injuries from taking place at your business. But you can take proactive steps to prevent many injuries. Workplace safety policies and procedures will help you to identify dangers and make steps to protect your employees against them.

This will save you significant costs, increase morale, and limit your liability. It will show your employees that you care about their wellbeing. And that’s priceless.

Now that you’re familiar with a workplace safety policy, you’ll want to read up on other important policies in our article 10 essential workplace policies for your organization.

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