How to Develop an Effective Written Safety Program

If you’ve ever applied for workers compensation insurance, you might remember that one of the questions on the application asks whether a written safety program exists for your business. But what is a proper written safety program?

In its simplest form, a written safety program consists of the written policies, procedures and work rules at a business. This program is then provided to employees upon hire and is regularly updated as work conditions change. These are the work practices you expect employees to follow in order to stay safe on your job-site, or in your store or restaurant. Topics include when and where to use eye protection, the use of non-slip footwear, how to handle chemicals safely, how to guard machinery, how to lift safely, and more.

The complexity and detail of your written safety program is based on the size of your operation as well as the potential risk of injury to employees. For example, employees doing roofing work are at greater risk of injury than those in a retail store. As a result, the business owner at the roofing company will be subject to more regulation and will require a more detailed safety program.

When creating a safety program you do not have to start from scratch with a blank pad of paper. There are a wide range of resources available. Some of the best free resources are the safety and health publications on the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) website. Visit the OSHA small business web page  to find the “Small Business Handbook” which outlines four key components for your safety program:

  • Management Commitment and Employee Involvement: This begins with a statement of safety policy and assigns safety responsibility to managers, supervisors and employees.
  • Worksite Analysis: This outlines regular workplace examination to ensure known hazards are being controlled and new hazards are identified before they cause injury.
  • Hazard Prevention and Control: How will employees be protected or how will hazards be controlled? Step one for the control of any hazard is to engineer it out — eliminate it!  If it can’t be eliminated, then methods must be developed to protect employees. For example, consider a slippery floor. First identify what is making it slippery; i.e. grease from a fryer or water from the dish area. If it is grease, what products are used to clean the floor? Are the cleaning chemicals correct for the type of grease and floor surface you have? Work with your vendor of cleaning products to ensure the cleaning chemicals will actually cut the grease. Have employees been trained how to properly clean the floor from the inner areas outward so they aren’t walking on a wet floor? Until the floor can be cleaned, should rubber mats be used to provide greater traction? What about non-slip footwear for employees? There is rarely one answer to a workplace hazard. Often it takes multiple solutions, i.e. a safety system.
  • Training for Employees, Supervisors and Managers: Working safely is not always intuitive, so do not assume everyone knows how to work safely. Take the time to train your managers, supervisors and employees; explain what the hazard is and what has to be done to prevent injury. Also, all training should be documented — what gets measured is what gets done.

No business will survive long if it cannot produce a quality product. If it manufactures a part, it must meet specifications and work as designed. If you provide a service, the work must be done to the customer’s satisfaction, i.e. the pipe can’t still be leaking after the plumber leaves, and the food that is served better be good or the customer won’t return. This is why most business have policies and procedures to ensure the quality of their product or service. They recognize that quality control is critical to business success.

The same is true for workplace safety. Insurance costs come right off the bottom line; they affect profitability. Uncontrolled workplace injuries will increase insurance costs and increase the cost of doing business.

So before you confidently reply that your business has an operational written safety program, ask yourself:

  • Do I have written safety policies and/or work rules that I expect employees to follow?
  • When was the last time my safety program was reviewed and updated?
  • When was the last time I held a safety meeting with my managers, supervisors and employees to ensure they understand my written safety program?

-Tim Hoffmann


Tim has broad experience working with manufacturers, school districts, distributors, service industries, municipalities and the hospitality industry. He is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP), holds the Associate Loss Control Management (ALCM) designation, and is a Professional Member of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE).

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