Occupational health and safety management deals with hazard identification, risk assessment and determination of appropriate controls to enhance the well-being and prevent injury and ill health to employees who are in any form of employment. In order to achieve an effective health and safety management system, organizations should handle these with greater significance. These three aspects form the major foundation for implementing an effective health and safety management system in the workplace and without them, the overall system would surely fail.
The health and safety of employees should be a priority of any employer. Illnesses or accidents among employees will impact negatively on the organization’s bottom line. A healthy worker is a productive worker. Work accidents or ill health among employees results in expensive medical treatments, lost work days and can also lead to damage to property and loss of production. The employer should therefore ensure that the work environment is safe and employees concentrate on their assigned tasks without fear of accidents or sickness. To safeguard the safety and health of all employed persons, employers should implement a safety and health management system in the workplace. This applies to any organization, regardless of type or size.
Having a proper safety and health management system in place means that the organization will comply with any local or national standards and regulations regarding safety and health. The organization will therefore avoid potential fines and prosecutions. This system also provides the organization with a framework to help identify, control and improve the safety and health of its employees thereby ensuring that risks are as low as reasonably practicable. In addition, this will show the employees that their employer is committed to keeping them safe. Absenteeism will also reduce.
An organization can adopt the generic ‘Plan-Do-Check-Act’ (PDCA) principle to implement a safety and health management system. This principle is an ongoing process that enables an organization to establish, implement and maintain its health and safety management system. This will involve an initial audit to establish what the organization has or hasn’t got in place already, followed by a second audit in order to ensure compliance. Below is an overview of the cycle and how it translates to an effective safety and health management system for an organization.
The planning stage of the system requires an organization to establish objectives and how they will be achieved, plan for emergencies and responses to them, identify any legal requirements that need to be met, and the establishment of a health and safety policy to show the top management’s commitment to the safety and health of all the employees in the organization and visitors who come to the organization. Top management commitment is required for a good reason; without it, implementation of the system won’t be as successful and neither will the results. The entire workforce should also be engaged in this stage since they are the ones who will be most affected by the health and safety system and their understanding of the system will make them believe in it and increase chances of its success. Using the outcome of the initial audit, the organization will establish where it is compared to where it needs to be, based on legal requirements and standards of good practice. The organization will then need to decide what actions should be taken to reach the desired point. The whole planning process should be documented, clearly stating the responsibilities and what measurement will be used to determine whether the objectives have been achieved or not and the expected timescales.
This is the implementation stage, where the plan is put into action. If the planning stage is done correctly, then this stage will just involve following the procedures that were created. Trainings may be undertaken to improve the safety culture in the organization, hazards will be identified and control measures put in place to mitigate the risks posed by these hazards and safety and health communication can also be disseminated across the organization to make employees make the right decisions to avoid accidents and ill health. Refresher trainings can also be organized to ensure people remain competent, machines and other equipment need to be maintained, proper procedures followed in all operations and proper supervision undertaken where necessary to ensure that employees only carry out tasks they have been trained on and are suited to their competencies.
In this stage, the organization needs to determine how well the plans are doing. Evaluation will be done to establish what went well and what needs to be improved. This will be achieved by measuring the actual results against planned objectives. Performance measurement parameters and procedures devised should be checked against actual results. A good way of doing this is by performing an internal audit of the system. Regular internal audits will give an assurance that the organization is in control of the health and safety management system and give a mechanism towards achieving the objectives. External experts should also be invited to give an independent view of how well the system is meeting its objectives.
In this final stage, action will be taken to improve and close any identified gaps. This will be done with the aim of continuously improving the health and safety management system. The organization will learn from experiences, accidents or errors and take any action to update the system. It is also advisable to learn from other similar organizations and benchmark. Organizations should remember that this model is cyclical and this last stage leads back as feedback to the planning stage. Policy documents, procedures or training plans may need updating accordingly.
Remember this cycle is a generic model that can be applied in other areas such as project management, quality management, environmental management systems and many others.