This is one of those elements that is pretty constant across all different types of safety management systems. If the management system framework being utilized does not include a policy statement, look again, because it’s there.
“A policy is a temporary creed liable to be changed, but while it holds good it has got to be pursued with apostolic zeal” – Mahatma GandhiThe policy statement is really important to get right, for a number of different reasons:
- The policy statement is going to act as the compass for your organization. Most policy statements include organizational values to establish a framework for when there is no policy, procedure, or work instruction for the situation.
- Policy making requires the involvement of management and organizational leadership. Be wary of leadership who delegates this task, as it may signal implementation problems later on (e.g. “I didn’t agree to that” and other diffusion of responsibility-type chicanery)
- The policy is how you begin to tailor the subscribed standard to your organization. There are no two organizations that are identical, so there should not be two safety policy statements that are identical. This is the start of differentiating your organization from other considering the size and context of the organization.
- It give leadership an opportunity to set the tone for employee engagement. Management traditionally used to “huddle up” to crank out policy statements, if was even a group activity at all, and filled them with buzzwords, vague commitments, and “zero worship.” Development of the policy statement is the first opportunity for leadership to start developing shared accountability and a just culture across all levels of the organization.
- Engagement goes beyond employees and leadership. The company may choose to engage stakeholders in the development process. This can include insurers, labor / industry organizations, and trade associations. Regulatory contacts (e.g. OSHA, BSEE, etc.) may have valuable input, and if you don’t have a working relationship with a relevant regulatory agency, this may be an opportunity to develop a positive one.
- From your organization’s safety policy will spring part of your first set of safety goals and objectives. One of the fundamental concepts of management systems is creating accountability. From the organizational perspective, if we’re going to put it in writing (policy statement), we have to take it seriously enough to track it (goals and objectives).
Policy Statement Elements
There are also a number of required elements to the policy statement, which are nearly identical across the spectrum of safety management system specifications. To summarize, safety management system policy statements must include:
- A commitment to health and safety of everyone in the organization;
- Employee engagement;
- Compliance with legal and other requirements; and,
- Continual improvement (setting goals/objectives).
Depending on the safety management system framework that your organization subscribes to, it may have more visible elements, but these four form the basis for a good safety policy statement.
Once you have your policy statement down, then it’s time to figure out how the company is going to communicate the policy. Most organizations choose to get the safety policy statement on their company website, but that’s usually the first step.
There are a few other people that need to know the policy (like anyone doing work on behalf of the organization; e.g. employees, subcontractors, temporary staff). Also, there are stakeholders and interested parties outside the organization, who may be interested in the policy as well.
Next we’ll discuss how to set goals and objectives for your safety management system. If there’s a particular aspect of safety management systems you’d like us to cover in an upcoming post, please leave a comment or email us! We’d love to hear from you!
For more information on writing a safety policy statement for your SMS, download our free Safety Management Systems Policy Statement Element Matrix.