Setting a Health & Safety Policy


Well thought-out policies provide the foundation upon which to build a business. Any organisation that sets out without clear ideas about what its central objectives are and how it intends to conduct its affairs is destined to fail.

Definition of a health & safety policy

Drifting aimlessly along, reacting to external stimuli as they occur simply will not do! The first question to answer however is, what is a policy?

Any policy whether it is for health and safety or for anything else should set out key aims and objectives. Put another way, policy should set the direction in which we wish to travel. A company’s production policy for example, might be to produce the most energy-efficient washing machines in the world at the lowest possible cost. Everything that the company does must be geared towards delivering on this policy. In health and safety, a policy might declare that, staff are our most important asset and their health, safety and welfare is of paramount importance. If the company means what it says in its policy then its business must be conducted in ways that help to deliver on this policy aim. What is needed therefore is a clear policy that is written down for all to see, that is effectively communicated to everyone, and that is regularly reviewed so that it remains relevant.

It could therefore be said that the Health and Safety Policy is the real foundation for the overall management system, and it is against its stated aims that performance can be measured. This measurement is an important part of the management system as a whole because there is a great deal of truth in the saying, what gets measured, – gets done!

Policy as a management tool

The health and safety policy is as we have already said, a foundation for the management of health and safety. It is not the end of the process however.

What is required?

A company policy of any kind should be devised by the most senior managers so that it has authority and so that it is backed up with the necessary resources for its implementation. This is not to say that they should develop their policies in isolation. Policies need to be accepted by everyone concerned, and people need to feel that they have been involved in their development if they are to wholeheartedly participate in the delivery of the policy aims. Senior managers are therefore well-advised to consult with their staff on their policies so that they truly reflect the nature of the organisation and they have the best chance of success.

One of the most important requirements of a health and safety policy is that it should be a comprehensive reference document which takes the form of a clear guide for all to use. It should be a living document that is regularly updated in the light of experience and any changes that affect the company’s approach to various health and safety issues. A series of accidents for example should certainly prompt a review of the policy.

What does a health and safety policy look like?

Policies are normally written in 3 sections,

  1. Statement of Intent, – signed and dated by the MD.
  2. Organisation section.
  3. Arrangements section.

The statement of intent

This is the general opening statement written or at least endorsed by the most senior person in the organisation. It should commit the company to high standards, and convey a genuine sense of ownership by that person. It should set the scene for what follows. Here is an example of part of a statement of intent:

‘On behalf of this company, I wish to state that the health and safety of our staff and of others that might be affected by the work we do, is of paramount importance to us. We recognise that high standards in health and safety can lead to better results for individuals and for the business. We therefore commit to the provision of adequate resources for health and safety’

The organisation section

This part of the policy deals with WHO will deliver the policy aims, and it should be very specific about this. It should spell out the health and safety roles and responsibilities of all staff in some detail so that everyone knows what is expected of them and where they fit into the organisation as a whole. This section should cover everyone from the MD to part-time staff. An example might be as follows: ‘Supervisors will: carry out risk assessments, investigate accidents, and hold weekly meetings etc.’

The arrangements section

This section should contain policy statements on all the operational issues that are relevant to the business. Some issues will be common to most organisations, such as training, welfare facilities, emergencies, risk assessment, consultation etc. Others will depend on the nature of the business. For example, office-based businesses will need to address issues such as the use of computers, electrical equipment, and interacting with the public. Maintenance companies might need to think about their mobile services, use of vehicles, working at height etc.

In this section however, we must be careful to understand that policy is different to procedure. We do not need operational detail in policy, but the overall aims and objectives that the company sets for itself. Operational details can be given in appendices if necessary.

Having developed their overall policy, larger companies often require their different departments or sites to develop their own mini-policies under the umbrella of the main policy. This encourages local managers to take health and safety more seriously and to take ownership of this important function.

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