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Q&A: Steps for Developing an Effective Safety Policy

Jun 03, 2024

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Three professionals collaborating and discussing notes on a whiteboard.

A safety policy is a foundational document for creating safer workplaces. A well-written policy demonstrates an organization’s commitment to continuously improving its safety and health management system.

Jo Pina, CSP, vice president of EHS at Verde, joined  “The Case for Safety Podcast” and spoke with host Scott Fowler about how to develop an effective safety policy and share it across your organization.  

Fowler: How can a safety policy help set the foundation for a successful safety program?

Pina: If you would like to have success with your safety program, whether it's just a basic safety program or an actual safety management system, a safety policy is your core foundational document.

It's really three things: It helps you stay focused, it's your “why” and it helps set you up for future initiatives. You want to understand why you're doing what you're doing, and a safety policy can help justify your program and your resources to stakeholders who have questions and may not necessarily understand why we need safety.

As a safety professional with more than 20 years of experience, I've been in situations where you're pulled in so many different directions. Your safety policy will help you stay focused on your ultimate goal, so it acts like a compass in some ways.

In addition, if you want to pursue something like ISO 45001, having a an established safety policy is going to help you achieve at least the fifth clause of 45001, which is leadership commitment and employee participation.

Fowler: What elements should organizations include in their safety policy?

Pina: I’m a big believer in keeping things simple. We get so caught up with layers of complexity and sometimes we think we sound smarter when we throw a whole bunch of stuff into a document.

We have to understand that a lot of the people who will be reviewing this document are not safety professionals. We want to make sure that we put language and structure that's easy to understand and easy to follow. If you're starting out, I would suggest that you consider three core sections:

  1. Your commitment to safety and health
  2. Roles and responsibilities
  3. How you will achieve your goal

If you want to go for four sections, I would also provide definitions. That’s helpful internally and externally to provide clarity and help people understand terms like “incident” or “near miss.”

Fowler: Who should be involved in developing a safety policy?

Pina: If you are a a safety professional that's done this for many years, you know that you need allies. You need your community within the business. I would start by creating the policy with your safety team. If you don't have a team, I would work closely with operations or a similar team to create that initial draft.

Once you feel comfortable with that initial draft, I would bring in stakeholders that you work closely with — for instance, the human resources team. HR could be your corporate team for this review, or maybe you have a workplace experience team. Whoever you think would be a good candidate to conduct that initial review, I would pull them into the conversation.

The members of your legal team are also important stakeholders. I don't like to do anything without legal’s blessing. I would start with operations, then bring on other stakeholders like HR and ultimately you want to make sure that your legal team signs off on your policy before you execute it.

Fowler: How should organizations communicate the details of their safety policy?

Pina: That's a very good question because you can create a policy, but if no one knows about it, then it never happens. It really depends on the size of the organization and the sophistication of your resources. For instance, in a fairly large company, you typically have a communications team that will help drive that message. From my experience, communications teams are very particular about messaging, and they like to control how that messaging is delivered.

If you have a communications team, leverage them, but don't go to them unless you have something already approved and vetted through your legal team and your executives. Once you have an approved policy, bring it to your communications team and they will give you direction on how to best communicate that information.

If you don't have a communications team, leverage whatever communication flow you have within your company. Find different ways of communicating the information, because information is received differently by different people. Use visual aids and post the policy on your communication board, if you have a physical communication board. If you have a digital platform, publish the policy on your website.

Fowler: How should organizations adapt their policies?

Pina: I would consider the safety policy like any other policy and partner with HR on the cadence for revising it. Make sure to revise your policy at least annually. We are in a constant state of change and it's important that your policy remains relevant, fresh and current, especially as we enter a new age in our society with artificial intelligence and everthing that comes with that. I think you lose credibility if your policy is outdated.

Fowler: Anything else to add?

Pina: I think it's important for safety professionals to understand the importance of strategic thinking. Being more of a strategic thinker is going to drive success, because if you're too focused on tactical execution, which we have to do, it's not going to help you grow as an individual within the safety profession. It’s also not going to help your company grown from within. Starting with a safety policy will set the tone for that way of thinking.

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