Health & Safety Policy – know it, believe it, want it!
My dictionary gives three definitions of ‘policy’. I like two of them – they apply to health and safety. Well, the third one does, too – in a way. It says:”Policy – a contract of insurance or a document containing this”. I suppose that applies to health and safety, too. There are only two insurances that you have to have by law (know what they are? Later!) but insurances certainly do feature in health and safety.
The two definitions I like are:
“Policy – a course or principle of action adopted or proposed by a government, party, business, or individual, etc.”
“Policy – prudent conduct, sagacity.”
Apparently, the origin of both is in ‘citizen’ and ‘citizenship’, through French and Greek (no comment!).
The RRC course notes on Unit 1, Element 2 of the NEBOSH National General Certificate show the H&S policy to be a clear statement that has to be made (think of when and why) to establish health and safety as a priority for the organisation. It should state the aims and objectives of the organisation (as above – the course or principle of action chosen by the employer). It also says the importance of, and commitment to, health and safety should be recognised by senior management.
I used to test this when I visited clients, especially larger ones, by talking to the head of the company (managing director, CEO, or whoever) and seeing exactly what they knew about their own health and safety policy. After all, they signed it! If they did manage to find me a copy of their policy statement, I would read it and then ask about the ‘aims and objectives’ set out in it, and how, exactly, they met these.
Some of the answers would surprise you – they did me! Some said: “Oh, my operations director takes care of that”, or: “The safety reps look after health and safety”, or even (look to YOUR future career here, NEBOSH students): “The safety officer deals with all that stuff”!
Now, there is recognition and there is recognition. At the risk of wearing my dictionary out, that is the wrong word! I get the gist that it means simply knowing what you see, when you see it. This is a bit simplistic. I want (and I’m sure the law does) senior management to do more than know it when they see it (as in, ‘recognise it’). I want them to know it to the extent that they can understand it; believe it; want it; and make it happen!
But they won’t do that on their own, all ye students of health and safety – YOU will probably have to help them. So YOU have to know, understand, want and implement policy before you can get anyone else to. Can you do that? Know, understand and implement a course or principle of action that’s about ensuring the health and safety of those in the workplace?
So, it is policy to have a policy. Or, to put that in French or Greek: it is prudent conduct, or sagacious to have a course or principle of action.
But what does a policy actually consist of?
- The policy statement (of intent) – our aims and objectives;
- The organisation, resources and responsibilities (who does what to achieve the aims); and
- The arrangements (what we do to achieve the aims).
And the legal requirements for this are:
- The Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 – see Section 2 (3);
- If you have five or more employees you must have a written policy; and
- You must bring it to the attention of all employees.
And lastly, why do we have this “course or principle of action” we call a policy?
- It puts in place and demonstrates management commitment.
- It allows the business to focus on important issues.
- It gives employees motivation (to be safe and healthy at work).
- It encourages ownership of health and safety in the workplace;
- It lets us measure our performance (if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it).
- It shows us where improvements need to be made.
- It reveals any trends
- It lets us review our performance regularly and in a meaningful way.
Oh, and those two insurances legally required? Motor vehicle and employer’s liability.
Roger Passey Dip2OSH MIOSH (retired)
Occupational health and safety consultant
Roger has been working in health and safety since 1988 and as a consultant since 2004. Formerly a chartered IOSH member, he now enjoys retired status.