As a business owner, your employees’ safety is your number one priority. However, workplace safety isn’t common sense! You can’t expect employees to work safely if you haven’t given them the right tools and training. The most effective way to protect your employees and your business is to have safety policies in place and enforce them.
Why you need written safety policies
Pop quiz: Where are your safety policies right now? Are they in a binder on a shelf collecting dust, or do you regularly review them with employees? Are they living documents, or have they been the same since your company’s ribbon-cutting in 1983?
It’s not enough to simply tell your employees about safety protocol – or worse, assume they know how to safely perform a job. In our podcast episode Are Your Safety Documents Working or Worthless?, experts Mark Woodward and Terri Sweeten discussed the importance of documenting and enforcing your safety policies. “Employers, generally speaking, don’t document enough when it comes to safety,” Woodward remarked.
Documenting your safety policies is crucial. That means all policies need to be in writing. To emphasize the importance of your policies, have your employees sign them after you review them together. “When you actually make people sign things, it brings a greater level of importance to that rule,” explained Woodward.
To build a true safety culture, take it a step further: post your safety policies in visible areas like break rooms. Take advantage of every opportunity to get those policies in front of your employees. You should also keep records of when you conduct safety training and who attends.
Having a structured documentation process ensures your employees are thoroughly educated on the safest way to do their jobs. Just ask Penn’s Tow Service, who saw a significant reduction in on-the-job injuries after updating and formalizing their safety policies.
Enforcing policies and responding to safety violations
Documentation also helps protect employers if an incident does happen. “Under Missouri work comp law, the employer has a right to take a penalty if an employee doesn’t follow a written safety rule,” explained Sweeten. This means that if an employee willingly violates a safety policy and is injured, they may receive only partial benefits on a work comp claim, reducing the claim’s impact on your premium.
One of the foundations of a successful safety program is having leadership’s support in enforcing policies. The best way to empower your managers to enforce safety is to ensure employees truly understand the company’s expectations. You must clearly communicate safety policies early – during new hire orientation – and often – at least once a year.
When it comes to corrective action for safety violations, you should have a standard procedure that’s ready to follow. You might choose to issue a warning before taking disciplinary action. You might also decide to have a zero-tolerance policy for more hazardous violations and take action on the first offense.
Whatever you decide, be sure to document the process. To get started, download and save our sample disciplinary policy and safety violation form. For policy violation incidents that result in an injury and work comp claim, use our more detailed incident corrective action form.
Role of safety penalties
Some states, including Missouri, have laws that allow penalties to be taken on a work comp claim under certain conditions. A penalty reduces a claimant’s benefits by a percentage – typically 25% to 50%. Penalties are often assessed when an employer shows that the injured worker was knowingly violating a safety policy or procedure.
A penalty can also be taken if there is evidence that the injured worker was in violation of the employer’s drug and alcohol policy. Usually, this means the employee has signed a drug-free workplace policy and a post-incident test came back positive.
To take either penalty, it’s crucial to have your safety and substance use policies in writing. You must show that you’ve reviewed them with your employees and consistently enforced them. That’s why documentation is so important.
If your state laws allow for penalties, use that information to communicate the importance of complying with safety policies to your employees. Tell employees that if they’re injured while knowingly violating company policies, their benefits could be significantly reduced. Transparency about penalties can be a valuable teaching tool.
Top safety policies for your workplace
Now that you’re fired up about documentation and enforcement, which policies should you start with? Here are our top safety policies for any workplace.
Incident reporting policy
An incident reporting policy outlines your expectations when an employee experiences a safety incident at work. Employees should know to report on-the-job injuries quickly, but this policy goes beyond injury reporting. An “incident” could be a minor, report-only injury or even a near-miss incident in which no one gets hurt. Conducting investigations for all incidents will arm you with the most information to make safety improvements and prevent injuries from happening at all.
Drug and alcohol policy
It might seem like a given that you expect your employees to come to work free from the effects of drugs and alcohol. However, you still need a substance use policy outlining your expectations. Be sure to include the misuse of prescription drugs as well as illegal drugs and alcohol.
This policy is also a great avenue to inform your employees about your drug testing policy. If you conduct post-offer, random, reasonable suspicion or post-incident testing, have your employees sign off on that knowledge. Note that post-incident testing should be done within 24 hours of an incident.
Safe driving policies
Chances are, a good portion of your employees drive a vehicle. Even if they don’t drive for work, they might drive to and from work. Because driving is so common – and so hazardous – we recommend several driving-related safety policies.
- Distracted driving policy: The most common distraction while driving is cellphone use, but drivers can also be distracted by eating, grooming, reaching for objects or even conversations with passengers. Have employees sign an agreement to minimize distractions, and specifically cellphone use, while driving.
- Defensive driving policy: We strongly support defensive driving training for all employees, regardless of role in the company. This policy outlines the tenets of defensive driving, making employees more aware of simple ways they can be safer on the road.
- Seat belt policy: Wearing a seat belt can reduce your risk of death by about 45% in a car crash. While you hope your employees are already wearing their seat belts, it’s important to have them sign a policy promising to do so, every time.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) policy
If your employees regularly do work that requires personal protective equipment, it’s smart to have a policy that states the circumstances under which employees must wear special gear and the proper ways to use it. It’s especially important to review this information with new hires who might not be used to wearing PPE.
Lockout/tagout policy and procedures
A lockout/tagout program protects employees from the unexpected activation or release of energy from machinery. When you train employees on your company’s lockout/tagout procedures, be sure to have them sign an agreement to follow protocol every time they use hazardous equipment.
Transitional duty policy
A return to work program is an important part of claims management. A transitional duty policy lets your employees know that you support an earlier return to work by offering transitional or “light duty” options if an injury prevents them from doing their regular job.
Protect your people by enforcing safety policies
No one likes to be the “safety police” by taking corrective or disciplinary action when an employee violates a policy. But your company’s safety rules are there for a reason: to protect people. If you allow your employees to regularly work in unsafe ways or conditions, someone will get hurt eventually – and that feels much worse than having a reputation as the safety police.
For more sample policies, check out our free resource library.