Occupational health and safety is a comprehensive and integrated approach to safety in the workplace. Through programs, policies, and practices, it addresses a wide range of issues, including those attributed to biological, chemical, mechanical, physical, and psychosocial hazards.
In 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 4,628 workers were killed on the job—an average of 89 deaths per week. Despite these alarming statistics, the introduction of deliberate OHS programs has, so far, proven successful. Research has shown that since 1970, workplace fatalities have been reduced by more than 65 percent, and occupational injury and illness rates have declined by 67 percent. All this while the rate of employment has almost doubled.
What, Exactly, Is Occupational Health and Safety?The International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) jointly define occupational health and safety as:
- The maintenance and promotion of workers’ health and their capacity to work
- The improvement of the working environment and the job task so that it becomes conducive to safety and health
- The development of work organizations and working cultures in a direction that supports workplace health and safety
The Six Steps
If you're developing an OHS program for your small business or you've been put in charge of creating one by your employer, it's not always easy to know where to start. By following these six simple steps, you'll be have an effective OHS program up and running in no time.
1. Develop an OHS ProgramYour company's program should reflect a guiding principle that your organization seeks to uphold. It will provide the foundation for all subsequent safety decisions and actions. It is important that it shows commitment, ensures accountability, encourages co-operation, and is easy to understand.
Programs should be regularly reviewed and updated in accordance with the needs of the organization and to ensure continued regulatory compliance.
2. Obtain Feedback
Feedback on your organization’s OHS program is crucial to make sure that it is functioning well, has not overlooked anything important, and has not inadvertently disincentivized safe behavior (see Your Incentives Are Compromising Safety Culture to learn more about these unintended consequences).
Feedback should be obtained from all levels—management and employees. Getting the support and co-operation from employees allows you make sure that your safety initiatives reflect the real safety challenges face and it is also critical to securing safety buy-in (for a related discussion, see 5 Reasons You Struggle with Buy-In and What to Do About It).
Some methods for obtaining valuable feedback or consultation include:
- Establishing a workplace safety committee
- Hosting meetings and workshops
- Conducting surveys and providing suggestion boxes
3. Implement a Training StrategyIn any organization, safety is everyone's responsibility. Everyone, then, needs to be provided with the proper training. The specifics of your training program will depend on the kind of work your employees do and the kinds of hazards they typically encounter. But no matter the details, it should always seek to equip every member of your organization with the knowledge and skills they need to shoulder the responsibility of ensuring their own and their co-workers' safety.
Any OHS training strategy should include at least these components:
- Induction training
- Supervisor and management training
- On-the-job training
- Specific hazard training
- Work procedures and skills training
- Emergency procedure training
- First aid training (learn about the First Aid Basics for 10 Common Workplace Injuries)
4. Identify and Assess Workplace Hazards
Identifying and assessing the hazards in your workplace is a critical step toward meeting your company's desired safety outcomes.Hazards are the primary cause of occupational health and safety problems. Sources of hazards may include the workplace environment, the use of chemicals and materials, poor work design, inappropriate management systems and procedures, as well as human behavior.
The following procedures can be undertaken by your organization to identify hazards:
- Safety Audits – A systematic and periodic inspection of the workplace to evaluate the effectiveness of your organization's health and safety system
- Workplace Inspections – Regular inspections of the workplace carried out by managers, supervisors, and safety committee members to determine by observation what hazards exist in the workplace
- Accident and Incident Investigations – A set of procedures for investigating and reporting on accidents and incidents to identify the hazards that contributed to them (for advice on conducting these investigations, check out 7 Critical Steps You Must Take When Investigating and Reporting Accidents).
- Reviewing Injury and Illness Records – These statistics can be analyzed to identify overlooked hazards
Some key factors to consider when determining the level of significance of a hazard are:
- Exposure – The significance of the risk for injury or illness may be affected by the worker’s exposure level to the hazard
- Severity – The extent of the injury or degree of harm which might be caused by the hazard
- Individual Differences – Take into account an employee’s skills, experience, training, and physical capabilities
5. Develop and Implement Risk Control StrategiesAfter the hazards have been identified and assessed, you will need to implement a strategy to eliminate or reduce the exposure to the risk associated with the hazard. The hierarchy of hazard control will help you to determine the best way to control the risk (to find out more about it, see The Hierarchy of Hazard Control).
6. Review, Promote, Maintain, and Improve Your OHS StrategyFinally, it is important to review, promote, maintain and constantly improve your organization’s OHS programs and procedures. Promoting and evaluating these programs is vital for the ongoing effectiveness of your organization’s safety program.
Strategies for maintaining your organization's occupational safety and health program include:
- Ensuring that safety is integrated into all management procedures
- Evaluating the success of control strategies
- Communicating with employees
- Evaluating and reviewing educational and training programs
Why Having a Solid OHS Program MattersWhile the workplace has become a much safer place over the past few decades, workplace injuries and illnesses still occur and will continue to occur in the future. However, by implementing an occupational health and safety program specific to your organization, you can avoid tragic and costly injuries and illness.
It is the duty of all employers under their countries' respective Health and Safety Act and to take all practicable steps to ensure the health and safety of their employees. Good health and safety management practices have been proven to encourage higher staff retention and further, increase productivity and efficiency among employees.
So, don't delay any further. Keep yourself and your employees safe by following these six steps and taking a better approach to workplace safety.