How to Use the PDCA Cycle to Implement an Effective Health and Safety Management System

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.

Safety Management Series – Top Ten Mistakes We Can Make While Managing OHS

The challenge of managing the many aspects of Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) at our places of work at times can feel overwhelming. There are many legal, moral and financial reasons for us to pay attention to our OHS obligations. With all of these challenges we need to ensure that we are not wasting our time, money and efforts doing things that simply don’t work. Here is a Top Ten list of common errors we can make in managing OHS issues that hopefully we can all avoid. It’s OK if you start humming the theme song to one of those popular late night talk shows while you read this list.

(1) Celebrate the lack of injury and not the existence of safety.

It is a huge mistake to focus on the lack of injury as the measure that we’ve been safe. Everyone I’ve ever met can tell me of a situation when they have taken a terrible risk with their well-being and have gotten away with it. Of course we should be happy when we’ve gone a period of time without anyone being hurt, but that doesn’t mean we were “safe”. Safety cannot be defined as a lack of injury. Safety is created by what we do, not what we avoid.

Too many companies reward the “lucky” who didn’t get hurt while being unsafe and the “liars” who don’t report injuries to avoid being the employee that breaks the safety record. We need more focus on making our work places safe by doing the safety activities it takes to create safety. Safety celebrations should be shared with those people who have helped make our workplaces safe and not those who have just been lucky!

(2) Do safety to our employees and not with them.

Rules imposed by others don’t often get the buy in needed to actually change behaviour. Involving employees in the process of establishing the safe behaviours and rules that apply to their workplaces makes it much more likely that those rules of behaviour will be complied with. Challenging groups of employees to set and review the standards of performance involves them in the essentials of safety.

(3) Do safety for the government.

Companies in the early stages of developing their safety cultures often make the mistake of being “reluctant compliers”. They are doing safety because the government is forcing them to do it. The value of managing safety is truly beneficial to a company’s bottom line productivity and performance. The sooner a company starts doing safety for the added value to their performance the sooner they will start to perform! Safety is about getting everyone home every night. Of course how we do that should be in compliance with the applicable OHS related laws. Don’t do safety for the government, make your work safe and make it legal… your company will thrive financially because of it.

(4) Ignore the importance of the proper tools, equipment, materials and work space.

The historic myth that unsafe behaviour causes 88% of the incidents we experience is simply NOT true. Unsafe behaviours are involved in ALL incidents we experience. The other part of the formula that is often ignored by believing in this myth is that unsafe conditions are also always present. We need to focus our efforts on both safe behaviours and safe conditions (tools, equipment, materials and work environment). If we only supply broken tools to humans, we shouldn’t be surprised when they get hurt. If we don’t supply an easily accessible lifting machine for employees to use, we shouldn’t be surprised when they are injured by over lifting. Good tools and equipment increase the chances that workers will do their work by not taking unnecessary risks.

(5) Ignore the culture of unsafe behaviour.

Not making safe behaviour personal and not holding each other accountable for making it safe at work is a huge mistake. Allowing our fellow employees to continue unsafe behaviours is often disastrous. We are our brothers and sisters keepers. Not unlike when we play team sports games, we must take the opportunity to coach our fellow employees who are missing the safe behaviours they need to do so they go home safely every night.

(6) Miscalculate the power of groups actively caring about each other.

Inviting co-workers to give us feedback and coaching when they see us doing something unsafe is a wonderful way to increase the team approach to safety. Unless invited, our coworkers may feel reluctant to bring our mistakes to our attention for fear of a poor reaction. We’re in this together so why not open up the discussion and invite each other to help us through the challenges of behaving safely.

(7) Deliver Safety Programs to passive employees.

I’m not sure what happened historically to make us believe that we could deliver safety to employees like a pizza. The sooner we hold everyone accountable for safe production and not just production with safety added on, the better off we’ll all be. Challenging employees to come up with the ways to make their work safe is well documented as a sure fire way to increase your safety performance.

(8) Measure results and not the activities that create safety.

Companies who define safety activities for all of their staff throughout their organizations (including the CEO) are safer than those who don’t. Demanding that the measurement of doing a great job includes doing safety tasks like: investigations, hazard assessments, inspections and attending meetings, gets what needs to be done, actually DONE. Not doing this ensures that safety activities will take a back seat to production every time.

(9) Manage OHS differently than we manage the other parts of our businesses.

Why would a profitable successful company with a clear record of managing success implement a “safety program” that doesn’t EXACTLY replicate why they are successful in the first place? Manage safety exactly like you manage your business and you’ll get similar results. There are too many companies that manage safety differently than their business to the peril of their safety results.

If you know how your employees and management team are motivated to give you production, why would you settle for doing something different to get safety results?

Far too often companies take a very positive and proactive approach to motivating productivity activities yet do exactly the opposite when it comes to safety by providing only negative reinforcement for safety. Safety is a condition of employment is a commonly used threat. Of course it is, and so is being on time and doing your job. Too many companies in their orientation focus on making negative consequences the key messages during orientation rather than to tell employee that we need their help to make it safe here and we are counting on you to help us with safe production. Of course you cannot ignore unsafe behaviours any more than you would ignore behaviours that didn’t comply with your productivity systems. Stop making safety feel like a negative thing. There is nothing negative about doing our work with a focus on safe production.

(10) Hold safety meetings that everyone wants to avoid.

I have spoken to tens of thousands of employees in my career about the functionality of the “safety meetings” that they attend. Overwhelmingly people tell me they don’t like what goes on in these meetings very much. The natural question is “Why are we going to a meeting and not liking what is going on?” Simply fix it! At your next meeting stand up and tell folks you’d like to discuss how to make these meetings better. Let’s all set a goal of not sitting silently at a meeting that isn’t addressing our needs. Just say NO to unsuccessful safety meetings!

Well there you have it. I hope you have some ideas to think about to make your safety culture better. Own the safety process, take part in creating it, stand up and be counted. We need to do this together and stop doing things that we know fail. Let’s be successful together… it matters a lot to you and the people that you work with!

Why do I feel now like I should be throwing a 3X5 cue card through a fake window while I hear the sound of breaking glass just like David Letterman would? I’m certainly not the only one who misses Dave! Am I?

Safety Culture – Management Leadership and Employee Participation

Is there a simple method to increase employee safety awareness, reduce injuries and loss producing events, reduce operating costs, enhance overall productivity, and improve employee morale?

The answer is yes! There are many ways that this can be accomplished and as a business leader you can approach this challenge, by simply developing and managing the safety process in a more effective manner. This will lead to an effective safety culture as everyone starts to trust the system.

The question: How do I go about doing this? There is a simple answer! No matter how sophisticated you think that your safety efforts are, your system can always be improved. Our discussion will include all organizations, no matter how small.

To have an understanding of where you are on compliance, you may consider deploying some resources to evaluate your current system to see if the mandated legal requirements are maintained as intended by regulatory requirements. In the United States, the Federal Occupational Safety (OSHA) Act states that “Employers must furnish a place of employment free of recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.”

The current OSHA format is written in a way that fragments the Safety Process into a series of separate programs. So, this series of articles will briefly discuss each section of the Guideline and the improved benefits that you can expect from implementation.

As we continue our series we will provide an explanation of how to implement each requirement. In addition, we will include some useful tools that will help in initiating or improving your safety system. Therefore, the basic elements presented in this series are intended to cover all industries and organizations no matter the size. You will find that once you understand the basic concepts and start to implement these concepts you may want to expand and/or enhance the safety system to meet your organization. Program Elements You should note that there are consistent elements associated with each OSHA Voluntary Safety process. We will discuss these elements in more detail throughout this series of articles.

In the voluntary programs, OSHA outlines five elements that will help you to create a successful management system. For simplification, we have broken these elements into six sections. Although management and employee participation is complementary and forms the core of an effective safety process, we want to make sure that everyone understands that there is still a clear and distinct difference between management of the operation and employee participation.

Compliance with OSHA standards is an important objective. However, if you develop a successful management system, this becomes a non-issue. In this article we will discuss, what we feel are the core elements in any successful safety system, Management Leadership and Employee Participation. Management Leadership Management leadership from the top down is the most important part of any process. “Lip service”, is not going to work for you. If management demonstrates commitment, provides the motivating force, and the appropriate resources to manage safety, an effective system can be developed and will be sustained. According to OSHA, this demonstration of leadership should include the following elements that are consistent with an effective program:

  • Establishing the program responsibilities of managers, supervisors, and employees for safety and holding them accountable for carrying out these responsibilities.
  • Providing managers, supervisors, and employees with the authority, access to relevant information, training, and resources they need to carry out their safety responsibilities.
  • Identifying at least one manager, supervisor, or employee to receive and respond to reports about safety conditions and, where appropriate, to initiate corrective action.

If employees can see the emphasis that top management puts on safety, they are more likely to emphasize it in their own work and personal activities. It is important for management and supervision to follow set safety rules and work practices, which will provide a good example for all employees.

Managers must show their commitment and involvement in other ways. For example, doing plant-wide safety inspections; personally stopping potential hazardous activities or conditions until the hazards can be corrected or controlled; personally tracking safety performance; and holding managers and employees accountable for their actions.

The elements of management leadership also should include ensuring equal safety of any contract employees. Just remember Management must demonstrate their commitment. In reality, demonstration means “do as I do.” This is an important concept no matter what you are trying to accomplish, always “walk-the-walk, and talk-the-talk”. Remember: Actions speak louder than words.

The following of some basic elements where management must show their leadership to provide a safe workplace. Safety Policy By developing a clear policy statement of management support, you help everyone involved with the worksite understand the importance of safety in relation to other organizational values. By clearly communicating the policy to all employees, you ensure that no confusion will exist when a conflict arises between two of these values, such as productivity, quality, and safety. This is important, as it sets the stage to a successful process. Goals and Objectives You should make your general safety policy as specific as possible by establishing clear goals and objectives for the organization. These goals and objectives set the framework for assigning specific responsibilities. Each employee should be able to see his/her work activities in terms of moving toward the stated goals and achieving objectives.

Do not get caught up in writing a document for a policy statement and expecting employees to remember the rules. For example, I was involved in several situations where there was a written policy statement which consisted of 2 pages, a 40 page set of work rules, and department specific work rules. What is needed is a simple statement that sets the stage and something that everyone can remember. Assignment of Responsibilities Everyone in the workplace should have some type responsibility for safety. Clear assignments help avoid overlaps or gaps in accomplishing required activities. In particular, you must ensure that the safety professional is not assigned line responsibility that properly belongs to line management and supervision. This line responsibility would include functions such as supervising and evaluating the employee’s performance in areas of safety, providing on-the-job training in safe work practices and any required personal protective equipment (PPE), and encouraging employee participation in safety activities.

These responsibilities should flow logically from the goals and objectives that were established to meet the overall management system goals. Provision of Authority Any assignment of responsibility must be accompanied by authority and adequate resources. The latter includes appropriately trained and equipped employees as well as sufficient operational and capital funding. Accountability Once you have assigned responsibility and provided the appropriate authority and resources to all employees, you must follow up by holding those employees accountable for achieving what they have been asked to do. Accountability is crucial to helping employees understand how critical their individual performances are allowing them to take personal responsibility for their actions and performance. Employee Participation In any successful safety system, employees should be provided an opportunity to participate in establishing, implementing, and evaluating the safety process.

Employee participation provides the means that allows them to develop and/or express their safety commitment to themselves and/or their fellow workers. To fulfill and enhance employee participation, management should implement some form of the following elements:

  • Regularly communicating with all employees concerning safety matters
  • Providing employees with access to information relevant to the safety system
  • Providing ways for employees to become involved in hazard identification and assessment, prioritizing hazards, safety training, and management system evaluation
  • Establishing procedures where employees can report work-related incidents promptly and ways they can make recommendations about appropriate solutions to control the hazards identified
  • Providing prompt responses to reports and recommendations

It is important to remember that under an effective management system employers do not discourage employees from reporting safety hazards and making recommendations about incidents, or hazards, or from participating in the safety process.


“Developing an Effective Safety Culture: A Leadership Approach” by James Roughton

“Job Hazard Analysis” by James Roughton and Nathan Crutchfield.

The Safety Program Management Guidelines, published in the Federal Register (54 FR 3908) on January 26, 1989