Does your organization need a health & safety manual?

Updated 2018-11-29 according to ISO 45001

In my experience, most organizations that have an ISO 45001-based OH&S (Occupational Health and Safety) management system tend to use an OH&S Manual as well as an OH&S Policy. It often seems to be the case that many employees and stakeholders – and sometimes even the responsible person who writes the manual and policies themselves – are unsure of what is mandatory and what is not, as well as what the contents of each should be. Therefore, it may help to clarify what is indeed mandatory and what is not and look at the suggested merits of each and how they can potentially benefit businesses in various sectors.

Policy versus Manual

The OH&S Manual is not a mandatory document according to ISO 45001 even though many organizations decide that they need one. On the other hand, the OH&S Policy is mandatory. In summary, the OH&S Policy should be a physical document that is specific to your organization and sector. It should outline a framework for your objectives, and detail – among other things – how legislation and continual improvement will be dealt with. Reading our previous article How to write an OH&S Policy will help you to clarify exactly what the mandatory requirements are and how to ensure your organization complies. So, given that we now know that the OH&S Policy is mandatory, and the OH&S Manual is not, then what exactly would a typical manual contain? And, if it is not mandatory, why would your organization need one?

Several factors normally dictate whether an organization will decide it needs an OH&S Manual as well as the OH&S Policy. In some cases, it is even possible to incorporate the OH&S Policy into the manual itself. The OH&S Policy will normally be more of a high-level and strategic document than the manual itself, which should have more specifics related to your OH&S aspirations. In fact, many organizations may combine both quality and environmental elements with OH&S, to produce an overall company “SHEQ” (safety and health, environmental and quality) manual that sits on top of the individual policies.

Should we have the manual?

Understanding where and when the production of a manual may be preferred can undoubtedly help us decide how it can be of benefit to a business. Let us look at some of the factors that may influence this decision:

  • The sector your business operates in: It is obvious that an organization in the construction sector should have a more proactive health and safety approach than an organization that operates a small call center or office business. Having an OH&S Manual is often seen as a measure of how serious a business and its owners are about health and safety and employee well-being. While this may not be a priority for anyone engaging with an organization in the call center business, it certainly should be for anyone engaging in business or a partnership with a company in the construction industry.
  • The size of your business: Some potential business partners may well judge your organization and its aspirations based on how serious you are on the topic of health and safety. It may be very desirable to have a OH&S Manual that states your company’s strategic position on health and safety and how it is managed in line with the strategic vision and top-level objectives of your organization. Again, to a degree, this may be related to the sector you operate in but if you are a business of more than 50 people, for example, stakeholders, partners, and potential clients – as well as local authorities and auditors – may well expect you to have an OH&S Manual.
  • Your organization’s ambitions and aspirations: Good health and safety performance can be the key difference between remaining in business, or not, in some cases. Incidents or accidents that lead to deaths, chemical spillages, explosions, and the like can all lead to organizations closing. Having an OH&S Manual that details how the strategic execution of the OH&S Policy takes place and outlines the importance of health and safety and employee well-being to the top management team, can be a major selling point when it comes to pitching for new business. If a major player in your sector comes calling to discuss a partnership, the presence of an OH&S Manual can reinforce your status as a business to be trusted and respected, and therefore to do business with.
  • Understanding of the OH&S legislation: Complying with the OH&S legislation is critical, and this can be outlined in the manual in more detail, as opposed to the policy. Clearly outlining how the elements of legislation affect your organization, and how they will be addressed, is a key facet of the OH&S Manual.

The OH&S Manual – Is it for you?

Ultimately, every business must decide whether an OH&S Manual is suitable for its needs. In the previous article, To what extent should management be involved in your OH&SMS, we considered what is desirable in terms of top management input. This topic is a prime example of where the top management should be consulted. An OH&S Manual can be another sign of credibility when the top management must visit stakeholders and potential customers, and that can be a key advantage. Lastly, the construction of a manual requires everyone to once again consider all the elements, on a strategic and operational level. This will affect employee and stakeholder well-being and gives a chance for more ideas and input on OH&S to occur. It goes without saying that the more you consider these issues, the safer your environment should be. Maybe that’s as good a reason as any to have an OH&S Manual?

Why not use our free ISO 45001 Gap Analysis Tool to measure your OH&S management system against the ISO 45001 standard?

Advisera John Nolan
John Nolan
John Nolan is a Fellow of the Institute of Leaders and Managers in the United Kingdom, and Prince 2 accredited with a background in Engineering and Electronics and Data Storage and Transfer. Having studied and qualified as both a Mechanical and Electronic Engineer, he has spent the last 15 years designing and delivering Quality Systems and projects across many sectors in the UK, including both national and local government.