workplace safety meeting around desk

Realizing the benefits of safety plans

Author: Tim Fagan, Senior Legal Editor

Written safety plans are often the foundation of an organization’s safety program – spelling out safety goals, identifying hazards and controls, outlining standards and training, documenting procedures, specifying roles and responsibilities, and establishing lines and methods of communication and feedback.

There are many regulations for which OSHA felt it necessary to require a written safety plan to ensure compliance and worker safety. However, a well-written, site-specific safety plan is a fundamental best practice for any organization seeking to create and maintain a safe working environment.

Developing and implementing a safety plan at your facility can be a significant undertaking, but the value and benefits of having a written plan in place cannot be understated.

Preventing workplace injuries and illnesses

A written safety plan identifies hazards at your facility and documents the controls and other measures in place to mitigate those hazards, including the mechanisms for employees to communicate new or additional hazards or unsafe conditions or behaviors to management. The plan should also outline the plans and procedures for reassessing your operations and the associated hazards, including how employees are included in the process. This reassessment allows for continuous improvement of your safety program.

Employees who are properly trained on the content of the safety plan will be aware of the hazards in their workplace and the potential risk of injury or illness if the proper precautions are not taken, as well as the part they play in maintaining and improving safety at the facility. This awareness helps reduce the potential for accidents, injuries, and illnesses that might harm your employees.

Improving regulatory compliance

There are OSHA regulations that require written plans, such as the Hazard Communication Standard and the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard, but there are many regulations for which no written plan is specified. However, having a well-written safety plan, even when one is not required, will document the regulatory requirements, and the method of compliance at the facility, while assigning responsibility for ensuing compliance.

A well-written safety plan is a valuable tool to make sure all employees are aware of what must be done to stay in compliance with regulatory requirements, make regulatory inspections as painless as possible, and avoid enforcement actions.

Building a positive safety culture

A written safety plan along with management’s support for the plan’s implementation (e.g., investing in resources and equipment, and allocating time for employee training) helps emphasize the importance of safety in the workplace. It also demonstrates that the company cares about the safety and well-being of the employees. Getting employees involved in the development and implementation of the safety plan, and familiar with the roles and responsibilities of workers, supervisors, and management personnel allows them to have a voice and enhances buy-in of the plan. This facilitates accountability and a cooperative environment and makes the employees more engaged, which underscores the point that everyone plays a role in safety.

When employees believe the company cares about their safety and that everyone in the organization plays a role, it enhances the positive safety culture of the organization and the overall morale of the workforce.

Enhancing the bottom line

An organization that is actively taking steps to prevent injuries, improve regulatory compliance, and build a better safety culture cannot help but improve the bottom line.

By preventing injuries and illnesses an organization is avoiding workers’ compensation costs and keeping insurance premiums down, which can be a five- to six-figure cost savings. Proper compliance with all regulatory requirements avoids any regulatory agency enforcement actions and fines, as well as the damage to brand reputation that accompanies the public disclosure of such actions. Finally, a positive safety culture raises employee morale and employee retention which generally has a positive impact on productivity.