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How detailed should your occupational health & safety policy be?

One of the mandatory elements of OHSAS 18001 is establishing an OH&S (operational health and safety) policy. Given that this is a central part of any OH&SMS (Operational Health and Safety Management System), it may come as a surprise that many organizations are unsure about how to do this, and the elements that should be included or excluded. So, given that the OH&S policy is a critical document that sets the standard for health & safety in the eyes of your employees, customers, and stakeholders, what are the key parts that need to be included? And, how detailed does your policy need to be?

OH&S Policy – What is it?

The Cambridge dictionary defines a policy as “a set of ideas or a plan of what to do in particular situations that has been agreed to officially by a group of people or a business organization.” This should be kept in mind when forming your OH&S policy, as many organizations manage to go off on a tangent when constructing a policy, either omitting elements that should be included, or including elements that are not specifically relevant to the policy itself, or perhaps belong elsewhere.

So, broadly speaking, what should you consider and what should be included when you write your OH&S policy? Let us consider:

  • top management’s commitment to a safe workplace, the alignment of OH&S principles with the organization’s strategic direction, planning objectives, and measuring the results
  • that the OH&S policy should provide a framework for setting OH&S
  • an outline of responsibility and authority for OH&S in the organization
  • an outline of the importance of stakeholder and employee engagement and consultation in critical OH&S functions, including the policy itself – you can learn more about this in the article How to meet participation and consultation requirements in ISO/DIS 45001
  • a statement confirming the responsibility of all employees and stakeholders to uphold the OH&S principles and maintain a safe workplace
  • an outline of the methods by which the policy itself is reviewed and improved
  • a description of how the OH&S activities will be resourced and funded by the organization
  • a statement of how legislation and compliance issues will be met

For more specific details on how to construct your OH&S policy, please see the article How to write an OH&S policy. So, now that we understand this, what should be included when writing the policy, and how detailed does it need to be?


Your OH&S policy – How detailed does it need to be?

This undoubtedly depends on what sector your organization operates in. Think of the implications of writing an OH&S policy for an organization in the arms and munitions business, versus a policy for an organization in a relatively clean environment, like a call center. Therefore, it becomes clear that in order to write an accurate and meaningful OH&S policy, your organization needs to consider:

  • the sector it operates in,
  • the risk to its employees and stakeholders – both internal and external, and
  • the overall objectives of the company’s OH&S program.

So, understanding this, what details should you consider for inclusion in your OH&S policy? Let’s look at some examples:

  • A guide to the type of hazards expected in the workplace. Again, this will vary, as we have discussed above, but guidance on hazards in your OH&S policy is good practice.
  • An outline of the tools used to try and meet the objectives, whether weekly or monthly meetings, employee forums, or training requirements. Providing the scope of these activities will help the OH&S process itself become clearer.
  • A statement regarding employee and stakeholder consultation and feedback, for both the policy itself and on an ongoing basis to help meet the stated objectives.
  • An outline of how to deal with emergency situations – again, this can be established after the risk has been assessed in terms of the sector your business operates in.
  • A statement on the objectives of the policy and OH&SMS – is it to have zero accidents? To improve on last year’s performance?

However detailed you decide your OH&S policy should be is up to you, but for it to be truly effective you should strongly consider including the elements above. It is also recommended that the policy be written by the company itself, with consultation and input from employees and stakeholders. In these days of outsourced services, it is not unusual to have policies written by third parties or consultants, but these parties cannot always understand the detail of an organization’s activities well enough to capture all the salient points, so a policy generated internally is normally preferable, and input from employee forums and brainstorming sessions can certainly help with this.

Ensuring the OH&S policy works for you

The most vital thing is that the OH&S policy works for your organization. When deciding how detailed your policy should be, or how detailed your accident response process needs to be, then clearly the people within your organization are best placed to decide on these factors. This is also where the review process becomes critical. It is wise to remember that modifications can be made to your policy; in fact, this can be viewed as continual improvement. If the policy is not detailed enough, if your objectives are not being met, or if any other part is not fit for purpose – review it and change it. This continual improvement of the OH&S policy – along with its effectiveness – will keep your employees and stakeholders safe.

Use this free preview of an Occupational health & safety policy to see what such an document should look like.

Advisera John Nolan
Author
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.