Climbing the mountain, 1 step at a time

Benchmarking health and safety involves communication, documentation
By Theresa Frechette
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 11/06/2012

Employers need safety programs, both to protect employees and meet legislated requirements. The problem is many don’t know where to begin — the task appears as daunting as climbing Mount Everest.

So, how does a company get there? The answer is the same for an employer as it is for an adventurous climber — one step at a time.

A safety program has a basic skeleton, no matter which province it’s operating in or what legislation is guiding it, and the following will provide an excellent foundation.

Management commitment: Every member of the management team — not just senior management — must be supportive of the safety program and embrace the effort. They don’t have to run the entire program but they need to show support for the co-ordinator of that program by occasionally attending a safety education session conducted for the employees, sitting in on a health and safety committee meeting or conducting a mini workplace inspection on an irregular basis.

A policy statement: A good place to start is by making a statement of belief in safety. A health and safety policy statement should state the commitment of the company to do all it reasonably can to protect the health and safety of every employee. It must also state an expectation that supervisors and workers adhere to all applicable health and safety legislation and to the company’s safe work rules. This statement should be signed by the most senior person, dated and posted. It should then be reviewed each year and updated.

Hazard identification: Since the main purpose of the safety program is to protect employees, employers need to know what it is about the work that could hurt their health or safety. List the main tasks of each job, then look at these tasks and think of all the ways someone could get hurt. When the list is compiled, it should be separated into a high-, medium- and low-risk probability of injury from this source. Then, it should be easy to list items already in place to protect the employees from this harm, such as guarding, personal protective equipment (PPE) or exhaust fans.

Safe work procedures: These procedures have to be written in such a way that there is no doubt as to what the hazards are, how the employee can protect himself and how to use any PPE or devices required. This should be detailed enough to cover the hazards but short enough to make it quick and easy to understand. If possible, these procedures should be posted near the piece of equipment or in the area where this work is being done. Procedures should be easy to reference so no one has any reason to forget how to do this work in a safe way — people become complacent and often need a reminder.

Communication of information: Education must be provided so employees know the hazards and how to protect themselves. They also need to know what PPE is required, where it is located and how to wear it and take care of it. Other areas of education are:

• employee responsibilities under the legislation

• employee rights under the legislation

• when and how to report injuries, hazards and unsafe conditions.

Document, document, document: Keep records of all written rules and procedures, and all communicated instructions. Attach an attendance list with signatures to show who received this information — don’t just hand them the documents and tell them to sign it to indicate they have read and understood the information. Employees also need to know they are expected to follow these instructions and discipline will be administered if they fail to comply. All rules apply to everyone, including every member of management.

Workplace inspections: The workplace must be inspected, at least monthly, by a worker representative. These inspections must identify all health and safety concerns and areas of non-compliance with applicable legislation. The inspection should be documented on a checklist with an area to assess the degree of risk (high, medium or low) so priority can be given to those areas most likely to cause harm. The inspection must also indicate how the information was communicated and to whom. Followup is required to ensure the corrections were made.

Accident investigations: All accidents should be investigated to determine what could be done to prevent similar events from taking place in the future. Critical and fatal injuries must be reported to the applicable parties (such as the workers’ compensation board, Ministry of Labour, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada and the union). Accident investigations sometimes point out areas of deficiency or lack of understanding of safe work procedures. Sometimes a procedure will be changed as a result of a good investigation.

Early and safe return to work: Keeping injured employees at work, or bringing them back quickly, is usually in the best interests of all parties. It demonstrates to the employee he is valued and it keeps him in the same routine and in the habit of coming to work. It usually costs the employer much less to have a person back at work rather than at home collecting benefits which, in turn, usually increases the premium.

The employer should also check the legislation for the province in which the work is being done to know the particular requirements for qualified first aid attendants and health and safety representatives or committees.

Keep in mind the main purpose of the health and safety program is to protect the people doing the work. Any inspector or auditor checking the program will be interested in seeing proof of the above, at a minimum.

Theresa Frechette is president of Theresa Frechette Safety Consulting Services in Barrie, Ont. She can be reached at or for more information, visit

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