Effective Safety Plans: 5 Things Safety Rules Can (and Can’t) Do for Your Business

November 1, 2023 • Previsor

Creating an effective safety plan can seem like a huge undertaking if you don’t specialize in it. They are often made of multiple moving parts. Small- to medium-sized businesses are growing every year. How can they put together an effective safety plan for the first time, or even with limited resources?

On this episode of the WorkSAFE Podcast, we sit down with returning guest Mark Woodward, Senior Safety and Risk Trainer at Missouri Employers Mutual.

First, we’ll explain why safety rules are the foundation of an effective safety plan. Then, we’ll share what safety rules can and can’t do for your business. Finally, we’ll share how safety rules can impact company safety culture.

Listen to this episode of the WorkSAFE Podcast or read the show notes below.

Safety rules: The foundation of an effective safety plan

At the heart of any effective safety plan are safety rules. “Your safety rules must first and foremost address key problem areas in your industry,” Woodward explained. Every business can benefit from addressing their industry-specific risks. “What we’re looking at here are basic, plain language expectations to address key problems.” There are four key elements to implementing safety rules:

  1. Write them down. List every safety rules in writing.
  2. Communicate them to employees. Share your safety rules with your teams.
  3. Enforce them. Team leaders and management should observe to make sure safety rules are followed on the job.
  4. Implement corrective action. If a safety rules isn’t observed, then corrective action should follow.

Safety rules need to address specific hazards. For example, a trucking company may implement a rule requiring a pre-trip truck inspection. Drivers must inspect their truck before each trip, sign off on the form, and return it to their supervisor. What effect does this safety rule have? A well-maintained truck helps prevent safety incidents. Employees are not only held accountable for inspecting the truck, but supervisors are able to track how the safety rule is followed. Consequences can follow if the pre-trip inspection form isn’t turned in.

OSHA compliance: Safety rules are one piece of the puzzle

An effective safety plan helps prevent injuries. Safety rules are an essential part of that plan. And while safety rules may be part of making your business compliant with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), there is a lot more to compliance than safety rules alone.

“That is a very complex undertaking,” Woodward highlights. “You know when we say safety plan, a lot of folks think of a three-inch safety binder full of complex things, documents, complex federal laws and things like that.” Simply having safety rules doesn’t make a business OSHA compliant. 

Safety rules can: Come from a place of care

The purpose of safety rules is to prevent injuries. Some employees view them as a burden. It can be challenging to get long-standing employees to buy into them, and get new hires to understand their importance.

One way to combat this is by presenting safety rules from a place of care. Injuries mean lost time and lost wages. Treatment and recovery can rake a toll on mental and physical health. Incidents can even affect those who were just witnesses. “You just have to sit down and speak from your heart,” Woodward pointed out. A quick safety meeting that addresses the day’s highest hazards can have a big impact. Employees receive the information with a personal message, and then sign off that they have. 

Safety rules can’t: Be too complex for employees to understand

A complex business often requires more safety rules. For instance, there may be safety rules at the company level, and then others that are made for certain departments or teams.

Having dozens of safety rules can be overwhelming and confusing for employees. Further, it can decrease the chance that they are followed. Wood recommends employers remember the following:

  • Start with the worst first. “No matter where I go or what industry I’m looking at, I’m looking at the worst first – the most common way somebody could be hurt.” Look at the worst hazards or those that cause the most injuries within the business. An amputation and an ankle sprain are not the same. What actions or tasks pose the highest risk? 
  • Identify high-energy hazards. High-energy events are ones that can cause serious damage to the human body. For example, electrocution, a motor vehicle crash, or a fall from a high height. They most often result in traumatic injuries. It’s essential to limit exposure to these kinds of risks. 
  • Use basic language. “Safety rules are basic in language and address key issues. That’s the kind of thing we’re looking for: simple, easy to understand safety rules.” 

Safety rules can: Result in positive change through corrective action

The idea of corrective action can be intimidating to come employers. But for Woodward, the way you talk about it – and how you follow up after it – makes all the difference. The goal of corrective action is never punishment, but prevention. Prevention of injuries, incidents, and financial impacts, like tickets or fines.

Corrective action can also work hand in hand with positive action. “What if they’re doing it right?,” he pointed out. “We don’t say thank you enough.” If your employees are following safety rules, then take the opportunity to say thank you.  “I highly recommend you keep, you know, a pocket full of $5 Quick Trip cards or Breaktime gift cards or whatever.”  

Employers lead what corrective action looks like in their organization. For example, it can be as simple as having a conversation with an employee. “What we’re trying to do is make sure that that issue doesn’t happen again,” he explained. 

Safety rules can’t: Help prevent incidents if they aren’t communicated 

Safety rules are a key part of an effective safety plan. Furthermore, sharing them with your employees is essential. “You’ve got to remember, this the safety plan will not protect you if a serious injury or death occurs in the workplace,” Woodward emphasized.  

Dusty documents kept in a back office – and have never been shared or acknowledged by employees – can’t and won’t help in the event of an incident. “OSHA’s not going to accept it and neither will the courts in Missouri. Neither will your workers’ compensation insurance carrier.” 

For Woodward, sharing rules once a year just isn’t enough. “I don’t believe in an annual safety meeting,” he said. “I don’t think anybody can remember what we did last week, much less a year ago.” If we have an exposure or a job task that could potentially kill somebody, like they could fall off something or they could be hurt in a motor vehicle crash, then I’m going to talk about that safety rule very often.” 

Safety rules can: Help create a culture of safety

It’s essential to set and follow safety rules, whether your business is being monitored or not. “Safety culture is driven by management,” Woodward shared. “Does management actually believe this stuff? A lot of times we have a safety plan, but we’re not really doing the safety means like we should.” 

I just want everybody that listens to podcast to go back and evaluate what you’re currently doing, and I need you to to be truthful with yourself,” he finished. Do employees know what the safety rules are? Is the company safety plan difficult even for team leaders to understand? Employees need to know how to work safely. Supervisors and managers need to ensure that these rules are being followed. Corrective action – and positive reinforcement – are the key to enforcement and an effective safety plan. 

November 1, 2023
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