Creating the Most Effective Safety Management System Possible is Critical and Every Employer’s Ultimate Responsibility

February 10, 2023

What is Safety Management?

Safety management, also called a safety management system (SMS), refers to programs within a company that prevent employee injuries, illnesses, death in the workplace, as well as the financial strain that accompanies these incidents. Although managing the safety of employees is the responsibility of everyone, as the employer, you have the main responsibility of creating and implementing a SMS. Once you have a program in place, all your employees are expected to share and uphold the duties it may entail. Programs involve resources, practices, and steps intended to keep you and your employees safe and healthy at all times when in the workplace. 

Every Employer’s Responsibility  

As the employer, you should always prioritize safety and health as a high value in your organization. It is every employer’s responsibility to create a safety management program for their company and to communicate it with their employees. Compliance with laws and regulations established by OSHA are already your responsibility. Putting a safety and health management program in place will help you maintain those standards and reduce costs of consequences for not doing so. 

You must lead in the integration of a safety management program and should employ the four main components of safety management when implementing one into the workplace. In this regard, it is also your responsibility to demonstrate commitment to the safety management system by example. Nobody within the workplace is exempt from following the procedures and steps taken to ensure the safety of themselves and others around them. Even after an SMS is put into place, you will be responsible for consistently evaluating the workplace to ensure that any necessary changes are made to maintain your employees’ safety. 

OSHA standards and regulations also prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who report work-related injuries or illnesses. You are expected to take responsibility for such work-related incidents and failure to report them will lead to disciplinary action. It is also your responsibility to accept and encourage their employees to give feedback and report any breaches in the control plan or procedures outlined by the safety and health program you have put in place.

The Four Main Components of Safety Management

There are four components of an effective safety management program that are required in accordance with OSHA standards. You should implement these components as you work to create a safety management system, but encourage your employees also to participate in the process. 

  1. Commitment to a Safety and Health Program: This component mostly deals with the written documentation and the integrity a company puts into upholding it. A policy that states the objectives and intentions of the company to create a safe and healthy work environment will demonstrate commitment to their employees’ health and safety and their integrity as a company. This commitment is also essential for employers to demonstrate their behavior and priorities. By being an example and holding discussions during work meetings and orientations, employers can show their commitment to health and safety.
  2. Definition of Program Goals: Creating specific goals and objectives based on commitment is the next essential component of safety management. These goals should be realistic and relevant to the workplace by stating how the company plans on ensuring the safety and health of its employees. They should also be focused on what is most important to guarantee the safety and health of all individuals who are present in the workplace. By being focused, goals will lead to specific actions that can be followed and established in the workplace. 
  3. Assessment of Resources: In order to carry out goals for managing safety and health in the workplace, certain resources may be necessary. Employers should consult with various databases, articles, standards, and metrics to manage the workplace and identify when there are shortcomings in the safety and health program. Managing a budget for these resources will also be necessary to ensure all goals are met. 
  4. Training and Communication: The employer should implement the safety and health program by establishing the roles and responsibilities of the employees. Communication of safety objectives and goals will be necessary to unify the workplace. Managing safety and health needs to be a collective responsibility because it affects everyone’s well-being and the well-being of the company. 

Safety and Health Concerns

Every workplace will have its own potential hazards and health concerns. Some workplaces such as construction sites will have a higher number of safety concerns whereas an office space will have far fewer. However, there are possibilities for accidents in all workplaces. For example, tripping over an exposed cord could compromise the safety of anyone present in an office space. Hazards that can be found in the workplace can include but are not limited to:

  • Chemical hazards- This includes dangers such as toxic or radioactive materials, gasses, or fumes 
  • Physical hazards- This includes objects found in the workplace such as sharp tools, heavy objects, or heated materials or tools
  • Ergonomic hazards- This includes activities and conditions of employees such as heavy lifting, confined workspaces, or repetitive motions
  • Exposure hazards- This includes such circumstances as extreme weather conditions, animal materials, or allergies 

You should consider anything that can have either short or long-term effects on the employees. Not all safety and health concerns are obvious. Understanding the effects of particular elements found within the workplace is essential in knowing whether or not there could be a hazard. 

Getting Started with Safety Management

There are plenty of resources available to assist you in creating and putting a safety management system into action. Such sources that specialize in news and information on safety and health management include EHS and a page on the OSHA website. But there are some general steps that can be taken to begin the process of creating a safety management system or program for your workplace.

Employee Participation

The process begins with your employees. Your employees are the best resource for identifying potential hazards in the workplace. As such, they should be actively involved in the process of evaluating and improving the safety and health program. Encouraging them to give input and participate in the process of making and upholding the safety and health program is part of managing it. Giving them access to health information will also allow them to understand and accept procedures they will need to follow. 

A work environment where you welcome and listen to their input is essential. Doing so encourages your employees to participate and help in the process of creating an effective health and safety program. From here on out in the process, employee participation should be an ongoing element in each step of establishing a safety and health management program. It may be necessary to hold a meeting or training in which you explain to your employees their role in the safety management process and encourage them to actively look for, take notice of, and report possible hazards. 

Hazard Identification

With the feedback and participation of your employees, next will come the identification and assessment of potential workplace hazards. This process should begin before, not after, OSHA inspections or accidents happen in the workplace. Instead, you should actively look for and prepare for potential breaches of safety and health in the workplace. By preparing beforehand, the potential for injury and recovery costs will be reduced significantly. Look for physical as well as chemical hazards such as gasses, fumes, or vapors that may not be easy to notice. 

Over time, there may be instances in which you realize that your methods of control were not sufficient for dealing with a particular hazard. In such cases it will be necessary to take immediate action in correcting the insufficient method of control you implemented. Although a reactive approach is not recommendable, doing something will always be better than doing nothing in cases of accidents in the workplace. You may consider checking out accident investigation reports to understand more about potential hazards and hazard mitigation. 

Hazard Prevention 

After identifying potential hazards in the workplace, you and your employees need to define what the control options are for those hazards. This means that you will need to collect, organize, and review any information you have regarding the hazard and how to handle it effectively. This leads to selecting the controls that are possible with the given hazard. These controls work in a hierarchy of effectiveness beginning with the most effective to the least effective level of control. These levels are listed below:

  • Elimination: Completely removing the hazard from the workplace or locating it somewhere where it cannot negatively affect the employees.
  • Substitution: Replace the hazard with something more safe and reliable.
  • Engineering controls: Isolating people from the hazard by making a physical change to the workplace.
  • Administrative controls: Changing the procedures that employees use to interact with the hazard. 
  • Personal protective equipment: Use of PPE to protect the employees from hazards.

Of course, when selecting control methods and implementing a control plan for any hazards, address the most serious hazards first. Controls should also be implemented in case of non-routine or emergency situations. This should detail what employees need to do in the case of an emergency involving any potential hazards. You should also outline this set of controls in the workplace’s emergency action plan. 

Once the plans for control have been made, you need to then implement new safety measures according to the selected control plans. You must provide the needed resources as soon as possible and confirm that they are functional and effective. Sometimes this cannot be done immediately and will require some time for evaluation. In these cases, it is pertinent that you track the changes and progression of the control plans to ensure that they are functioning correctly and keeping your employees safe and healthy. 

Communicating and Training

The last step in the process of creating and implementing a safety and health management program is to communicate it to all employees. Train them to follow the procedures associated with the program. A clear understanding of what and why will be necessary so that your employees comprehend the risks that go with cutting corners. Employees who are aware and trained to do their work safely will avoid creating hazards. Training that needs to be accomplished with the employees in the workplace can include but is not limited to:

  • Program awareness
  • Leadership roles and supervision
  • Individual roles
  • Changes in procedures
  • Hazard identification
  • Hazard controls

Training can be conducted in any manner that is sufficient for the workplace. This could be by means of peer-to-peer training, on-the-job training, demonstration, or sit-down classes/courses. Whichever method works best for your workplace circumstances should determine how you conduct training. 

How Employees Report Hazards

A workplace culture focused on safety and health should encourage employees to report any hazards they notice to you directly as soon as possible. There are alternative means for reporting hazards as well in case you are unavailable, the hazard is a non-emergency, or something has not yet become hazardous to the workers. Employees can submit a report in writing to their supervisor or to a local OSHA office for review and inspection. Reports and complaints can also be submitted to an OSHA office by email, fax, or phone. 

Safety Incentive Programs

OSHA encourages, but does not require, companies to put in place a safety incentive program. These are programs designed to reward employees either individually or collectively for their obedience in reporting hazards and complying with the guidelines outlined in the safety management system or program. Giving incentives can encourage employees to be actively involved in the safety and health management system within the workplace. 

Some incentive programs take another approach and are rate-based, which puts the focus on reducing the number of reported injuries and illnesses. A good example of this is the well-known “number of days without an incident” card traditionally displayed in a workplace. At the end of a designated period of time, like a month or a year, employees collectively are rewarded for having reduced the number of incidents in the workplace. Such incentives are up to you to decide but some options include bonuses, company get-togethers or parties, and company raffles or prizes. 

Sometimes an incentive program is not necessary or is not recommended, however. In the case that machinery or resources for handling chemicals are manufactured with safety in mind first, you may be able to save time and effort in being safe and keeping your employees healthy. In other cases though, the best option may be simply creating a work culture that encourages and emphasizes safety first without focusing on rates and rewards. If necessary to ensure safety, the manner in which you conduct safety incentive programs should be focused on encouraging your employees to report accidents. If your workplace creates an environment that discourages them from doing so, the risk of injury and illness will increase. 

Continually Improving a Safety Management System

No safety and health management program will ever be complete or sufficient. Aspects of the workplace or conditions around the workplace or among the employees may change. When it does, you need to adapt your program to these changes. Assessment of your safety and health program should take place at least annually, but you should also assess it when opportunities to do so arise. Every time you implement a change, an evaluation of the new procedures or precautions put in place to resolve a hazard or issue should take place. 

Your ability and your employees ability to identify hazards is another aspect of a safety management system that should be evaluated often or at least annually. To do this, you and your employees should work together to assess methods of control implemented with the SMS. Verify the core elements and that they are fully implemented and effective. The input of your employees is crucial to receiving the most valuable feedback possible on the effectiveness of the program. 

In reality, the process of improvement is not too different from the process of creating an SMS. Repeating the process is the best way to address potential hazards and create the safest possible work environment for you and your employees.