Safety in the Workplace: How to Develop a Safety Program

According to the OSHA website, 4,340 workers died on the job in 2009.

“With every one of these fatalities, the lives of a worker’s family members were shattered and forever changed. We can’t forget that fact.”  -Hilda Solis, Secretary of Labor

Another 3,696,100 workers experienced worker related illness or injury in 2008 (the most recent data available) according to the website.

These staggering numbers speak to an employer’s responsibility to provide a safe and hazard free workplace.  Having a well defined safety program can help keep a focus on a safe workplace.

The goal of a safety program should be to create a system to support identification, evaluation and prevention or control of hazards beyond legal requirements. The system should also train employees to be aware of and understand safety issues. Using employees to help identify potentially dangerous work areas and things that need correcting makes them aware and encourages them to take ownership of workplace safety. Written guidelines are not as important as the effectiveness of the program. As organizations grow and workplace complexities increase, the need for written guidelines increases.

How to Develop a Safety Program

Ownership of Safety

Someone should be given the responsibility to oversee the safety program.  Safety responsibilities should be written in the employee’s job description and incorporated into the performance management process of the organization.

Safety Inspection

A workplace safety survey should be done to identify areas that need correcting.  This includes identifying fire emergency exits, things that could cause a slip or fall, inspecting exits for clear routes, how ergonomics are used properly, lighting, protective clothing (where applicable) and maintenance equipment safety issues. This should also include a review of new facilities, materials, equipment and all processes.

Incident Investigation

It is important to conduct the investigation as soon as the incident is reported and ideally within 24 hours.  When investigating an incident, try to answer the who, what, where, when, how and why of the incident.   Going through these questions allow you to drill down on the issue and make recommendations for an improvement plan.  An incident report should be completed on every accident, injury or illness that happens in the work place.    Safety improvement should be documented and maintained in the safety person’s office.  OSHA has some reporting requirements that can be found at

Safety Committee

Establish a safety committee to oversee the entire process.  The safety committee should be made up of front line employees, facility/maintenance representatives as well as other leaders in the organization.  Front-line employees can help identify and resolve health and safety problems because of their unique perspective.

Committee Responsibilities:

Identify workplace hazards
This should include inspections of all buildings and talking to workers about unsafe work practices and conditions that are potentially hazardous.  The safety committee is also responsible for writing policies and procedures for inspections.

Assess Safety Issues
This is done by reviewing accident records and looking for trends that might contribute to hazards.  There should be an accident investigation, and review of incident reports and accidents should be done before every inspection. An annual review of the safety program should also be done.  This is just a time to review the safety policies and conducting a walkthrough of the organization.

Problem Resolution
Management of safety involves following up on all issues and ensuring resolution has been done to correct issues as well as general oversight of the safety management of the organization.

Safety Records
The safety committee should keep records of all incidents and meetings and any recommendations that are made.

Safety Training

It is important for all employees to go through safety training so there is an understanding of safety policies and procedures and their responsibility in helping maintain a safe work environment.  Employees should be trained on any unsafe conditions, reporting of illness or injury and use of personal protective equipment.   Employees who work with hazardous materials should be trained on proper handling, storage and use of chemicals.  Training should also include new processes or procedures as they are introduced or new equipment that may pose a hazardous situation. It is important that employees have a reporting process to alert management of potential hazards. Training should be documented and incorporated in the new employee orientation process.

Top Down Driven

Safety must be driven from top management throughout the organization.   Employees will only be as committed to workplace safety as senior leadership demonstrates, so the more visible leadership is in supporting workplace safety, the more likely success will be.

According to the OSHA website, effective management of worker safety and health programs:

  • Reduces the extent and severity of work related injuries and illnesses.
  • Improves employee morale and productivity.
  • Reduces workers’ compensation costs.

Providing and effectively managing a safe workplace is the right thing to do for employees as well as the organization.

photo courtesy of: The Rocketeer