While often necessary for legal compliance and for third party certification, a safety policy is possibly the most useless document in a safety management system (SMS). It is little more than a statement of intent and a proclamation of commitment that state the obvious. I mean, what organisation wants to publicly state that it intends to injure, maim or kill it’s employees and how many employees want to be injured killed or maimed? Unfortunately the number of people who are, is an indication of how often these statements are all to often ignored in practice.
At best, a safety policy sets broad framework within which a safety management system can be developed … at worst it is a decoration in the reception area. But it is necessary to have one, so what should they contain?
Some may disagree, but it is my belief that the best safety policy is a short one. It should be one page or less. It should state the organisation’s vision for safety and the beliefs and values that underpin and define the SMS. The way these will be achieved in practice is the subject of other documents such as procedures and work instructions.
Writing a safety policy is not hard, but it does need to reflect the organisational culture if it is to be relevant to the people who work there.
Health and Safety Vision
The first step is to define the vision or mission statement or whatever term is used to describe the organisation’s broad intent. An example would be:
“<<Name of Organisation>> is committed to do all that is practical to minimise the risks of injury or ill health resulting from its activities”.
Policy statements of this type are not technically SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, timely) and nor should they be.
- They are deliberately non-specific, providing a broad guide to the direction to be taken. Specific actions should be contained in procedures, work instructions and programs.
- Success or failure is measured indirectly through the effectiveness of other strategies and programs.
- They are achievable since risk reduction programs can be introduced that would be successful.
- They are relevant to any organisation since risk reduction is what management is all about when you think about it.
- They are not timely – no time frames are stated and nor should they be at this level since there is and always will be room for improvement.
The second step is to broadly describe how the organisation intends to achieve the stated objective and who will be involved and responsible without being overly specific. For example a statement such as:
“Managers in consultation with employees will ensure that risk assessments of all activities are undertaken, identified risks evaluated and where they cannot be eliminated suitable control measures are introduced to minimise the risk of injury or ill health.”
provides sufficient guidance without going into the specifics of how a risk assessment will be conducted or the nature of consultation to be undertaken. This allows some flexibility in developing strategies and conducting programs intended at achieving the overall objectives of the safety policy.
Responsibilities and Accountabilities
A safety policy is a high level document and the most senior manager in the organisation should have ultimate responsibility for ensuring the intent of the policy is achieved. In geographically and / or functionally diverse organisations this may be delegated to the senior manager responsible for the division, department or section. The person holding the nominated position should sign the document to indicate their awareness and acceptance of their responsibilities.
A safety policy should be regularly reviewed to make sure it remains relevant to the organisation’s internal circumstances as well as external requirements. Changes in an organisation’s structure, management or even ownership could impact on the direction and responsibilities regarding safety. Similarly, changes in the law, modifications to certifications standards, etc could introduce new requirements that need to be addressed.
A safety policy should be reviewed on a nominated frequency as should all corporate documents. The timing of these reviews should be between one and three years and a basic statement indicating this should be the last statement in the safety policy.