Safety Program

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Large group of people illustrating different roles of safety professionalsA Step-by-Step Guide to Establishing a Safety Program

Before a company can engage in construction, manufacturing, or other hazard-prone endeavors, it must have a safety and health program in place. Not only does such a program drastically reduce reportable incidents, but it also helps ensure businesses are in compliance with system standards like Z-10 and the upcoming ISO 45001. Non-compliance can produce tens of millions of dollars in legal liabilities even when no safety incidents take place.

It is important to understand that safety and health are implemented as a program, not a project:


A program is an ongoing, cross-functional initiative that brings together people and resources to achieve ongoing goals. A safety program is never complete until the day a business closes down. Instead, it represents an ongoing activity to be refined over time. No matter how effective your safety protocols are, they can always be better.


A project is a short-term effort to harness people and resources to achieve a specific, time-limited goal. Projects tend to have lower budgets and involve fewer people than programs. Like a program, a specific project has objectives that can be reported and milestones to deliver, but a project is done when a “final milestone” is achieved.

Since many businesses that have safety and health programs are project-driven, especially in the construction industry, it can be easy to overlook how complex safety can be. A good safety program requires long-term planning, vision, and commitment across the enterprise.

Let’s look at four key steps to standing up a safety and health program:

Step 1: Understand the Roles of Management and Employees

A new safety program can only be successful when management and staff work together. While managers – particularly the chief safety officer – act as the architects of a vision for safety, only workers can bring the day-to-day vigilance and encouragement vital for it to function.

When designing a program, it’s crucial that staff at the worksite see management contributing to safety policies, improvement, and review. It’s up to management to evangelize the program and ensure every stakeholder understands the details that apply to them.

In the early stages, health and safety obligations should be integrated into job descriptions and HR policies. Each role’s authority related to safety management should be unambiguous so oversights can be corrected promptly – and performance evaluations must include safety!

In addition to worksite policies and reporting requirements, safety objectives should be set out at step 1. Without clear, measurable objectives, it is impossible to monitor the impact of individual policies. A clear incident response policy must include root cause analysis and lessons learned.

Step 2: Analyze Worksite Safety Hazards and Best Practices

Once the framework of a health and safety policy is in place, it needs to be informed with data about the specific hazards personnel will face. This often involves working with outside consultants whose baseline observations equip the chief safety officer with needed insights.

During this time, initial Job Hazard Analysis reports are prepared. Top-level leadership creates the procedures necessary to mitigate future hazards introduced by new equipment, material, or work processes. When all procedures and policies are in place, worksite personnel are briefed on all existing hazards and trained in hazard response and reporting.

At this time, a monthly site inspection team is organized. Leadership of this team often rotates so every stakeholder takes ownership over worksite safety. The team should include both hourly employees and management. A complete inspection of the worksite should be completed once each week, with all potential safety hazards documented in full.

Provisions for annual inspections should also be made at this stage.

Step 3: Prevent and Control Hazards at the Workplace

Ongoing hazard prevention involves the often challenging work of ensuring all personnel adhere to standards as strictly as possible at all times. The chief safety officer has obvious duties here, including advocating for hazard elimination and environmental hazard reduction.

Safety officers must also act as champions of accountability in workplace safety. While programs are often very successful in the beginning, safety is a “marathon, not a sprint.” The CFO must communicate how safety impacts business goals, sometimes in unexpected ways.

For example, incentivizing top safety performance might involve implementing bonuses or other perks for a team’s maintenance of exceptional safety. It might include negotiating at high levels to ensure personnel who are subject to workplace hazards are not over-scheduled.

Ongoing hazard control also entails making sure that first aid and emergency medical care are available in case of incidents. Any employee health records must be retained in strict confidentiality Accommodations must be made for workplace injuries and other health issues.

Step 4: Implement Continuous Training and Refine Processes

To ensure optimal health and safety, new personnel should go through a rigorous, multi-step training program, including one-on-one supervision from a designated staff safety expert as necessary. Tenured personnel should also undergo periodic re-training. A bi-annual “all hands” safety meeting can help keep staff up to date.

As annual safety information is compiled, the chief safety officer and other designees should compile “lessons learned” and be prepared to report on significant hazards, actions taken, and how changing procedures have impacted the work environment.

How Does a New Safety Program Relate to Individual Jobs or Worksites?

As personnel become active on new worksites, it’s important to make sure all aspects of your program are in place before the whistle sounds on the first day of work. This can be complex in situations where you are working at a client-owned site.

When reviewing the safety posture of new worksites, it’s a good idea to look at it from the perspective of the Five Core Functions of Integrated Safety Management. “Integrated Safety Management” is a standard of the U.S. Department of Energy.

This condensed, five-step process includes these benchmarks:

  • Define Work Scope: Translate your overall “mission” into actionable objectives with clear expectations and priorities. Ensure that resources are available for all members of the team to do their part in workplace safety.
  • Analyze Hazards: Identify, analyze, and categorize the key hazards at the workplace. Design an appropriate plan for worksite monitoring and the identification of new hazards based on the nature and timeline of the job.
  • Develop and Implement Controls: Identify baseline safety standards and the controls needed to maintain them. Prevent and mitigate hazards, integrating new information from ongoing analysis as necessary.
  • Perform Work: Confirm readiness of all stakeholders to perform work safely and responsibly. In the early stages of work, be prepared to accelerate changes to ensure any oversights are corrected.
  • Gather Feedback and Make Improvements: Collect feedback in both a planned and an ad-hoc way, synthesizing the two on a regular basis. Identify opportunities for positive change and drive them forward.

Never Forget: A Safety Officer is a Strategic Leader

Combining the two approaches above, it becomes possible for a safety leader to see the work at hand from both a strategic and a tactical perspective. Safety is often considered a “cost center,” but day-to-day operations depend on safety excellence. Safety leaders should not hesitate to advocate for the changes necessary to help teams do their best in a safe, effective way.

Learn More

Learn to identify and analyze potential workplace hazards, infractions and risks through a bachelor of science in occupational safety online. At Eastern Kentucky University, you will gain a graduate-level education by industry-experienced educators and fire and safety professionals who are committed to teaching and preparing you for continued success.