The Health and Safety Policy Statement, or ‘Statement of Intent’ as it is often known, forms the foundation for an organisation’s approach to managing health and safety at work. Just like with any building, if one gets the foundation right then whatever is built from that point will be solid and stable. Produce a weak foundation and problems soon start to arise.
So what makes a good policy statement?
The first thing to note is that there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ policy statement. What may serve one organisation well may be entirely inappropriate for another. The policy, therefore, is a personal document that needs to be written with the needs and objectives of a specific organisation in mind. If a company was to attempt to copy from another then the policy they would end up with would not be a good fit and would not serve them well.
Here are my tips for an effective health and safety policy:
- The MD must be closely involved. The policy statement should feature a clear and unequivocal commitment to the management of health and safety at work. From this will flow the resources needed to make this happen. This commitment can only be made by the most senior person in the organisation so it is essential that this individual is fully on board from the outset.
- Write in the first person. The policy statement needs to be a personal statement from the MD. I see it as a clear statement of safety leadership from the MD that sets out what they expect.
- Don’t over-promise. It may be tempting to say that ‘health and safety is our number one priority’ but is that really the case? What about survival and turning a profit (without putting profit before safety, of course)? Most would agree that health and safety should be a high priority for any organisation but is it really to be placed above all else? The implications of doing so may mean that an organisation spends far too much on safety when the risks are viewed objectively; it may also result in making promises that can’t be kept, leading to a loss of confidence in the process when the policy fails to deliver. Keep it realistic.
- Keep it personal. The policy statement must be yours, not someone else’s. While it is going to be helpful to look at policies produced by others, avoid the temptation to copy. The more relevant the policy is to your needs, the more effective it will be.
- Set clear objectives, but be mindful of what is achievable. Objectives should be challenging but should not set the organisation up to fail. Try to set objectives that lead to a sense of achievement when reached rather than setting unmanageably difficult objectives that cause the organisation to become demoralised.
- Call for the involvement of the entire workforce. An effective health and safety culture requires co-operation from all. Management cannot do it all themselves so should make the position clear from the outset.
- Review. The policy should be reviewed periodically, say once per year. This helps to maintain the momentum and continuous improvement of your safety management system. Not reviewing causes the process to falter and stall. The policy may also need to be reviewed if there are changes in personnel, especially senior staff, or if new technology or processes are introduced.
Safety doesn’t need to get in the way of effective business management – in fact, it should complement it. It does need to be planned though; you can make the ideal start by establishing a realistic safety policy. A great way to start this process is to receive some training. The IOSH Leading Safely course is a terrific option that helps senior managers to see how safety and health management fit alongside the management of other areas of business risk. Contact us for further information or to enquire about a bespoke training package for your organisation.