True or False, Employers can write the most detailed Safety Handbook, hire the most experience supervisors and managers, and their safety program can still be a dismal failure? True. Contrary to popular belief Safety Handbooks do not impact how, when, where or why employees are injured.
Some employers assume that if they write a comprehensive safety handbook that follows the Occupational Safety and Health Standards to the letter and distribute it during New Employee Orientation – employees will read it, follow the expressed directions, remember to work safely and ultimately avoid injuries. All of these assumptions are false. Safety Handbooks provide false hope that everything is ok in the work environment.
Most safety handbooks end up on a bookshelf with no practical application in the workplace. On rare occasions, the book is dusted off to satisfy the workers’ compensation insurance carrier, or to show OSHA that you have a formal written program, or to find the exact wording to discipline an employee who violated a safety rule.
Employers, who think that writing a safety handbook will prevent injuries, also hope that their employees will follow directions and remain injury free. As the statistics show, employees are injured every day, every hour and every second. Instead of relying solely on a written safety handbook, employers should attempt to answer one simple question, what can I do to create a safe and injury free work environment?
Employer’s who successfully answer this question do not take a hands off approach to injury prevention. They understand the mandate to provide employees with a safe work environment; they also understand that injury prevention starts by creating a culture where safety is paramount and procedures are in place to effectively prevent, monitor and manage occupational injuries.
There are volumes of safety information readily available on the internet to help employers implement safety in the workplace, the only problem, most organizations do not access and use the information effectively. Proactive employers utilize the free resources and tools that are readily available on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s website – www.osha.gov to implement best practice in their work environment. They use the OSHA resources to research the safety requirements for their industry, implement employee centered training programs and ultimately reduce or eliminate injuries.
There is no need to reinvent the wheel – OSHA has already tested, documented and created a venue to disseminate it to employers. Use the resources as a guide; look for trends in your industry, alliances with your industry trade associations, inspections that OSHA conducted at similar businesses. What did they site? Do you have the same problems in your work environment? What can you do to eliminate the exposure or risk?
Your work does not stop there; now you have to create a method to disseminate the safety information to your managers, supervisors and line employees. The best approach, develop and implement job specific safety training programs with an emphasis on injury avoidance. Your training program should be formal, consistent, uniform and documented. The information gathered during your research can be incorporated into your job specific policies, procedure manuals and transferred into a formal hands-on training program. The resources can also be used to implement on-going safety awareness programs.
Remember, creating a safe work environment starts by insuring that employees understand the specifics of each job you are asking them to do. This means training the employee on the exact job tasks, method or methods for completing the job safely. Evaluate every department or work area in your organization, identify potential injury prone areas and implement procedures to avoid injuries. After implementing your training program develop a competency matrix to insure that the training is effective.
When incidents happen do not bury your head in the sand, investigate the root case of the accident and immediately develop procedures to keep it from happening again. Create a corrective disciplinary policy for employees who violate safety rules and for supervisors who tolerate non-compliance. A corrective disciplinary program includes retraining the employee, providing guidance and establishing a method to verify that the employee is complying with your safety policies.
Safety conscious employers, train their employees, mandate that they follow appropriate safety procedures, provide ongoing educational opportunities and enforce safety rules.
Yes, a written safety handbook is necessary but it should not be the focal point or the only method used to implementing safety in the workplace – it is just one component of the process.