Creating a set of health and safety policies and procedures for your business can seem daunting. It needs to be airtight, but flexible enough to adapt as you grow.
Compliance should be embedded in an organisation’s culture, underpinning practice and backed up by clear leadership. Let’s explore how to make that happen, and how simple things like workplace risk assessments can contribute to your long-term mission.
Writing a health and safety policy
Compliance begins – and the buck stops – with senior management. It’s essential that the board sets the tone with an effective health and safety management system. Board members need to be visible and vocal in communicating everyone’s duties, and highlighting the benefits to them, or the policy won’t take root.
Executive directors should develop policies which minimise risk and help the organisation respond efficiently when difficulties arise. Non-executives must make sure that health and safety remains on the workplace agenda.
The policy should be delivered by a designated competent person, either selected from the workforce or via an external expert. Working with a partner such as Checkit will help you draft policy, conduct risk assessments, and make sure new procedures get implemented.
A typical health and safety policy consists of three parts:
- The general statement: What you want to achieve, your commitment to effective health and safety management
- The responsibilities: Outlining the duties of staff to realise the overall vision
- The arrangements: Practical details of how those responsible will achieve their goals
Of these, the arrangements are likely to be consulted the most so they should contain the clearest, most direct instruction. Best practice is moving away from enormous documents and towards tighter, practical advice.
Think about things like:
- The ways you’ll minimise risks and eliminate hazards
- How new and existing staff will be trained in their responsibilities
- Protective equipment your staff will need to work safely
- Potential workplace adaptations, from signs and specialist lighting to anti-slip flooring
- How you’ll store and handle (or replace) potentially harmful substances
The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has in-depth details of how to write a health and safety policy, complete with examples, on their site. But if you are in any doubt talk to a professional consultant who can guide you through the process, whatever the size of your business.
Compliance is a culture
Having a properly written set of procedures in place is one thing, it’s quite another to walk the walk.
In a report on safety culture, the HSE found, “many companies talk about ‘safety culture’ when referring to the inclination of their employees to comply with rules or act safety or unsafely. However, we find that the culture and style of management is even more significant, for example a natural, unconscious bias for production over safety, or a tendency to focussing on the short-term and being highly reactive.”
So again, we’re back to management’s duty to lead the way. It’s easy to spot a poor health and safety culture, with typical symptoms stemming from failure to lead:
- Front line practices that don’t follow procedures
- Toleration of procedural violation on a large scale by management
- Lack of employee participation and engagement in compliance
- Strategic choices which emphasise productivity and profit over safety
Meanwhile, the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) have produced a detailed, researched guide on Promoting a Positive Culture. Those cultures which the IOSH sees as positive share a number of qualities:
- Staff are given the proper time and resource to meet compliance requirements
- Management take the lead on showing a visible interest in health and safety
- Decisions made at all levels are clearly communicated up and down the chain of command
- Accidents and near misses are seen as chances to learn and continually improve
That last point bears repeating. Even with regular health and safety risk assessments and stringent processes, accidents can happen. Positive, healthy cultures don’t shy away from the responsibility to learn from them.
What went wrong? Why? How could it have been prevented and how can you prevent it from happening again? Answering these questions becomes easier if you put things in context.
As part of your regular health and safety risk audits, you’ll have records of past performance standards. You can use these to spot lapses which may contribute to accidents and use that data to improve your processes.
But spotting lapses like this is reactive, sometimes weeks or months after an event. A proactive approach makes compliance easier, letting you monitor and action checks, tasks, equipment and processes in real time 24/7.
Digitising your compliance checks and continuously monitoring your processes in real time gives you confidence that your business is operating legally. Not only does it boost speed and efficiency compared to old-school paper record-keeping, it opens up new worlds of reporting and analytics.
A data-driven approach to developing compliance will always beat a series of best guesses. Business process management software like Checkit lets you spot trends and anomalies from one central dashboard, monitoring 24/7 to improve your processes.