How to ensure your safety procedures are followed


How to ensure your safety procedures are followed

Ensuring safety procedures are followed by employees is no easy task. Organisations need to enforce a culture of compliance, make procedures easy to locate and keep them up-to-date. An expert offers advice.


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Ensuring safety procedures are followed by employees is no easy task. Organisations need to enforce a culture of compliance, make procedure easy to locate and keep them up-to-date.  

Bruce Nixon, a business systems and processes expert and CEO of Holocentric, recently spoke to WorkplaceOHS on this topic, including the value of  building an easy-to-navigate repository of up-to-date procedures.   

Nixon’s advice on safety procedures is summarised here.

The right culture 

Organisations must foster a culture where employees appreciate the purpose and benefits of complying with safety procedures, and where leaders understand the need for continuous improvement. Procedures that are perceived to be inefficient and a burden are liable to be flouted by employees.

It is important to provide the systems, support and training necessary for employees to access safety information in a form that is relevant to their role, and to follow procedures effectively. 

Procedures also need to be regularly reviewed and kept up-to-date. Scheduling periodical reviews of procedures is worthwhile but organisations should also encourage their employees to report any shortcomings or inefficiencies, so improvements can be made promptly.

When procedures aren’t followed — whether that’s because the culture of compliance is not there or employees are unable to access up-to-date information — accidents including serious injury and loss of life could occur.

In addition, organisations face fines and the possibility of closure (e.g. airlines have been grounded by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) over safety concerns).  There is also the cost of having to rectify defects caused by employees taking short cuts.  

Due to economy of scale, it makes sense for a large organisation to invest in procedures that are tailored explicitly to their operations. However, investing in customised procedures might be too expensive for smaller businesses. Adopting a standard set of procedures is the more viable option.

Consultation is invaluable

Safety professionals are responsible for looking at potential risks to an organisation and prescribing procedures, but feedback from the people who are ‘closest to the action’ (e.g. the people on the factory floor or at the coal face) is also invaluable.

Giving employees the opportunity to provide feedback, and valuing their input, will ensure procedures remain relevant and positively influence compliance.

Understand the audience

Organisations need to ‘understand the audience’ and to present information in a manner that will be understood in terms of form, language and style (e.g. some employees might be receptive to diagrams illustrating a procedure, others might prefer a checklist).

Employers should provide just enough information for employees to follow procedures effectively and safely.  Employees who are overburdened with information and feel a procedure is too difficult are likely to overlook that procedure or aspects of it, introducing a greater element of danger into the work they are performing.  If an employee is undertaking work involving a ladder, they don’t need a whole safety manual, just access to the most pertinent information. 

Some employees prefer hard copies of procedures, others prefer soft copies. The benefit of having electronic copies, available through an intranet-type service, is that employees can access information that is more reliable than those on paper. Organisations should cater for both preferences.

‘Modelling’ is useful

When regulations or policies change, organisations should review and update the affected documents. However, this task can be complicated and time-consuming when the regulations or policies that have undergone change are duplicated in numerous documents. 

“Modelling” is recommended. The idea is that rather than building a regulation or policy into every document, an organisation can create a sophisticated, software-based model that captures the relationships between each procedure and the relevant policies, regulation and people.

The model should be responsive to changes in regulations and policies i.e. new information is automatically collected and assimilated into the system. The result is a navigable system of information where employees can easily locate and pull together procedures, regulations and policies into a concise and up-to-date document that is relevant to them. 
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