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January 28, 2010
Safety Policies and Safety Plans--Do You Know the Difference?

Most organizations have safety policies and/or safety plans. Some people use the terms interchangeably. Do you know the difference?

For a Limited Time receive a FREE Safety Special Report on the "50 Tips For More-Effective Safety Training."  Receive 75 pages of useful safety information broken down into three training sections. Download Now

What Is a Policy?

A policy is a guide to action and decision-making under a given set of circumstances that ensures consistency and compliance with the law within the framework of corporate objectives and management philosophy. The important word here is “guide.”

It is a set of principles intended to govern future actions in a consistent manner in light of changing conditions or situations.

What Is a Plan?

A plan is a set of activities designed to achieve an objective. Let's say the objective is to keep evacuation times below a new prescribed level. The company's plan for evacuation drills might include:

  • Strict adherence to procedures for employees
  • Meetings with supervisors to emphasize the importance of reducing evacuation times
  • A procedure for regularly reviewing times, and
  • Memos to supervisors in underperforming areas reminding them to enforce certain disciplinary procedures for chronic nonparticipation or laxness.

Why Safety Policies?

There are no laws requiring employers to have handbooks and policy manuals, even for safety and health issues. Then why should your company go to the trouble and expense of creating written policies? In two words--safety pays!

The investment of time and money to ensure that employees understand your safety and security rules comes back with positive--and measurable--returns. Injuries and work-related illnesses mean higher insurance premiums and increased operating costs--which eventually mean higher costs to customers for products and services and lower margin for competitiveness, not to mention damage to a company's reputation with the community, with potential employees, and with its own workforce.

Your Company's Policies

Your company's handbook is the logical place to plainly state rules, regulations, and procedures that affect safety, security, and wellness in your facility, as well as other workplace issues.

By consistently applying and communicating safety and security policies and incorporating these policies into core business processes, employers can:

  • Reduce the cost and frequency of penalties for health and safety violations.
  • Minimize the likelihood of lawsuits.
  • Lower health insurance and workers' compensation premiums and other medical costs.
  • Increase productivity and morale.
  • Expand safety and health awareness at all levels.
  • mprove communication and trust between management and workers.
  • Bring about a lasting, positive change in employee relations.
  • Ensure minimal disruptions for customers and clients.
  • Protect the company's reputation.

Policies serve several useful functions:

  • Giving rules that can be applied consistently
  • Answering frequently asked questions for employees (especially new hires)
  • Meeting legal requirements for providing certain information to employees in writing, and
  • Outlining company goals.

A lack of policies--or simple noncompliance with them--often sends the message that employees' safety is of secondary concern to the bottom line. And your employees should never have the impression that safety takes a back seat to productivity!

Why Safety Plans?

Depending on your type of operation, federal OSHA requires as many as 18 safety plans and there may be additional requirements from state agencies including workers compensation providers. OSHA and state agencies sometimes use the words “plans” and “programs” interchangeably but in most cases, they mean the same.

Written safety plans will help you comply with workplace safety laws, prevent worker productivity losses due to occupational injuries and illnesses, and reduce workers' compensation and related litigation costs. Effective safety plans depend on the credibility of management's involvement, inclusion of employees in safety and health decisions, rigorous worksite analysis to identify hazards and potential hazards, stringent prevention and control measures, and thorough training.

Why Must Policies and Plans Be Put in Writing?

Without written policies, managers and supervisors will often rely on decisions made by peers and predecessors who have handled similar situations in the past. Other managers rely on instinct, dealing with each situation as it arises and relying on their own “good” judgment to make the right decisions.

Either approach results in inconsistencies, which in turn can result in misunderstandings, grievances, and even lawsuits. A single manager's decision--with no written policy to back it up--can set “policy” and influence dozens of similar decisions by other managers and supervisors.

In most cases, OSHA requires safety plans to be written but even when not specified by regulations, written documentation will go a long way in preventing possible OSHA citations.

Resources to Help You Get Started

Are your safety policies effective? Do they contribute to the protection of all your workers? BLR can help. You'll find prewritten, ready-to-use safety and health policies for every safety need in BLR's Essential Safety Policies .

To prevent OSHA fines, protect your employees, and to make your job easier, Safety.BLR.com has over 70 customizable prewritten safety plan templates and more than 150 associated forms.

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