Starting a Workplace Safety Program

Every employer has a legal obligation to furnish a place of employment free from known hazards, according to the OSHA Act.  So, how do you develop an effective and proactive safety management system using time-tested methods that have proven to be successful in all organizations?  Let’s take a look at several critical elements of a successful safety management system, including developing safety programs, policies, plans, processes, and procedures.  A successful safety program is essential and although overwhelming; here are some good basics to start with to create a successful program at your workplace.

Commitment and Leadership

It is essential to the success of your company’s safety and health program that top management demonstrates not only an interest, but a long term serious commitment to protect every employee from injury and illness on the job.


Accountability ranks right at the top with management commitment as a critical element in a company’s safety and health management system. Accountability is one of the answers to the question, “Why do we behave the way we do in the workplace?”

Management may impose all kinds of safety policies, programs, written plans, directives, rules, and training on the workforce, but as you’ll soon learn, none of that effort will matter unless the appropriate application of effective consequences within a culture of accountability exists: only then will desired behaviors be sustained. After all, employees must believe they are going to be held accountable for the decisions they make and the actions they take, or you can be sure that any safety management effort is ultimately doomed to failure.


It’s difficult to have an effective safety and health program without developing a corporate safety culture that encourages genuine employee involvement. Employees are held accountable by the employer for three personal behaviors:

  • complying with safety rules
  • reporting workplace injuries immediately
  • reporting a hazard

Effective Communication

Providing an open and positive environment that encourages all-way communication about safety and health is critical to a successful safety management program. It’s important to design multiple communication pathways including orientation, instruction, training, meetings and open-door policies.  Effective communication is extremely important to the goal of increasing employee involvement in safety and health. Skilled safety communications will support leadership, at all levels, from the CEO to the employee.

Hazard Identification and Control

I’ll bet if you look around your workplace, you’ll be able to locate a few hazardous conditions or work practices without too much trouble. Did you know that at any time an OSHA inspector could announce their presence at your corporate front door to begin a comprehensive inspection? What would they find? What do they look for? Now, if you used the same inspection strategy as an inspector, wouldn’t that be smart?

An Inspector Shows Up at Your Workplace:  Now What?

Accident Investigation

The process of analysis is extremely important in identifying and eliminating those conditions, behaviors and system weaknesses that result in workplace accidents. Discussing the various concepts, principles and procedures related to the analysis process can, hopefully, transform your workplace, as close as possible, into a “risk free” zone.

Education and Training

Safety education and training is extremely important to ensure all processes in your company’s safety and health management system are effective. If this critical element is missing, none of the other system elements can, or will be effective. But, this element is often neglected or managed ineffectively because the benefits may not be immediate, tangible, and directly related to profits. Managers may find it difficult to see the long-term improvements in process and product quality that result from an effective safety education and training program. It’s hard to see the accidents that don’t actually happen.

Continuous Improvement

Important principles have evolved from companies that perform continuous safety improvement planning and implementation.  They represent best practices in continuous safety improvement:

  • Determine the current situation using objective (fact-based) data analysis, not subjective feelings.
  • Set a goal to always address the root causes/system weaknesses. Assume root causes always exist.
  • Focus work and resources on the people, machines, and systems that add value.
  • Improve safety processes through continuous controlled experimentation using the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) and other methods.
  • Make decisions based on long-term systems improvement.
  • Update or create standardized processes to reduce variation and waste, and promote continuous improvement.
  • Employ partnering and knowledge sharing within the company and with external suppliers, customers, and other stakeholders.

For more information about creating an effective safety program at your workplace, check out  OSHAcademy’s free online safety training course:  700 Introduction to Safety Management.