How to write an OH&S Policy

Having a documented OH&S Policy is one of few formal requirements for mandatory documentation in the OHSAS 18001 standard. The standard requires that top management define an occupational health and safety policy for the organization. What is this policy about? How do you make sure it is adequate? What do you need to include? While the answers to these questions are different from company to company, here are some guidelines to help you define them at your organization.

The OH&S Policy emphasizes the overall intentions and direction of how the company will relate to occupational health and safety. This statement needs to come from top management, since it is a primary directive for how every individual in the company will perform their jobs in relation to occupational health and safety. This is where you display what commitments your company will make to controlling and improving the occupational health and safety.

What should the policy contain?

Like in any other management system standard, there are some common requirements that every policy must meet.

Appropriate to the organization – This isn’t really an element that needs to be written in the policy; rather, it is something that needs to be remembered throughout the writing of the policy. The OH&S Policy needs to be appropriate to the nature and OH&S risk levels in your organization. If you are a construction company, then having an occupational health and safety policy focused on the office hazards would be incorrect.

Prevention of injuries and ill health – Another commitment that needs to be included as a basic part of the policy is for your company to prevent injuries and ill health. Again, you don’t need to document how you’ll perform the prevention in the policy, but this should be something that you can easily direct someone to during an audit.

Management commitment and continual improvement – One of the main reasons for implementing any management system is to identify the processes in order to improve them. The OH&S policy is expected to include a commitment to this concept of continual improvement in how your processes affect the occupational health and safety. You don’t need to state how you will do this, just that you are committed to doing it.

Comply with legal and other requirements – The last commitment that is needed in the policy is to comply with all legal and other requirements related to occupational health and safety, and you need to agree that you will meet any laws or other stipulations that relate to these. You don’t have to go into details; it is enough to state that you are committed to fulfilling relevant legal and other requirements and later describe how you maintain compliance in the procedure.

Framework for objectives – Here is where you get into the detailed information that is applicable to your company. You will need to set up plans to achieve some objectives related to improving your organization’s occupational health and safety, and these need to be consistent with your OH&S policy. If you are setting a policy to create a safe environment for your employees and avoid injuries in the workplace, then your objective will ultimately need to relate to this. Don’t put something into your policy that is unable to be acted upon with your improvement plans.

Documented, implemented and maintained – The OH&S Policy is one of the items in the management system that needs to be a written document. This can be in hard or soft copy, but it can’t be word of mouth. It also needs to be implemented, meaning that there have been plans made and resources assigned to make the commitments in the policy happen. As time goes on, the policy will also need to be reviewed and updated as the nature of the company’s OH&S hazards change, and this is the maintenance of the policy.

Communicated to all employees – Employees need to understand what the company policy is and how their work activities correspond with the occupational health and safety hazards of the company. The policy doesn’t need to be memorized, but an employee should be able to understand what is meant and how they are involved in attaining the goal.

Available to the interested parties – Unlike many management systems, the OH&S Policy is expected to be shared with anyone outside of the company who asks. This can be posted on the external website or made available by inquiry, but if someone wants to know what your policy is, it should be readily available. This is how your investment in an occupational health and safety management system can become a publicity tool for your company.

How to write it

As you can see, there are a lot of requirements regarding this mandatory document (See this article: Which criteria to apply when deciding about OHSAS 18001 documentation, but that doesn’t mean that you need to write a novel. The standard does not require you to describe how you’ll perform all these requirements; it just requires you to state that you will do all those things. The policy can be observed as a statement, and can be formulated on one page or in a single paragraph. Make the policy as simple as possible so that it is easily understood, but still meaningful to help your employees and others know what your company  intends to do about improving its occupational health and safety.

The OH&S Policy is one of the first milestones in implementation of OHSAS 18001; to set up the implementation as a project, see this free whitepaper:  Project Plan for OHSAS 18001 implementation.

Advisera Strahinja Stojanovic
Strahinja Stojanovic

Strahinja Stojanovic is certified as a lead auditor for the ISO 13485, ISO 9001, ISO 14001, and OHSAS 18001 standards by RABQSA. He participated in the implementation of these standards in more than 100 SMEs, through the creation of documentation and performing in-house training for maintaining management systems, internal audits, and management reviews.