Writing Effective Safety Procedures

When running a business it is the responsibility of you and your safety team, which varies with the size of your operation, to make sure that employees in your charge are adequately protected at all times. A safe workforce is a happy workforce, and a happy workforce is a productive one. Safety procedures serve another purpose as well, they insulate your business from lawsuits and liability. This is, of course, secondary to the lives and well-being of your workers, but it is one of the reasons that OSHA and other rules exist around workplace safety – one at-fault incident can bankrupt a small to mid sized business.

Unfortunately, just having a safety plan or set of procedures doesn’t mean you’ve got yourself covered. In some cases, procedures can actually hinder safety and efficiency among workers if they are hard to interpret or don’t adequately serve their function. If workers view procedures as unnecessary or overly burdensome, they also may be inclined to simply ignore them. In our blog post, we’re going to go over how you can effectively author your safety procedures and construct them to best work for you and your business.

Does Your Writing Have a Voice?

When writing, tone and voice are extremely important to adapt for the audience you’re speaking to. For example, think about a copywriter that needs to put together two advertisements for a cell phone company. One advertisement is selling a new smartphone for business professionals and another is for an entry level phone for teens. Do you think that the writer is going to write both of the ads in the same way? No, the tones of the ads are going to be completely different because 40-something business men and women are going to respond to text differently and understand different references than 16 year olds. You need to adopt the same well-researched, intentional mindset used by marketers and copywriters when writing your safety procedures. Write for your workers. In general, you should make things as easy to understand as possible, there’s no need to over-complicate your words and waste your workers’ time.

Additionally, a good way to keep your words readable is to stick to short paragraphs and sentences, separating out large blocks of text to avoid making things too dense and losing the eye of the reader; no one wants to read a 2,000 word essay in order to figure out what protective gear they need to wear. If it’s a longer form procedure with many different steps, keep the document to a maximum of 1-3 pages; shorter is generally better as long as all bases are covered.

Is There a Defined Purpose?

Before you actually put a pen to paper, so-to-speak, you need to identify a clear purpose that your safety procedure is to serve. With a proper and understandable justification, safety procedures are much more likely to be followed and accepted. Here are some examples of what I mean:

Record Keeping: A big improvement that most people can make in their safety programs has to do with keeping track of incidents and close calls. Old systems of tracking safety, such as only tracking incidents, have been proven time and time again to be an inaccurate way of gauging safety. This is largely because unsafe behavior only leads to an actual incident part of the time, so not accounting for the close calls or “near misses” means you aren’t really catching the root of your problem.

Reducing Severity of Incidents: When something does go wrong, it is important to minimize the damage. This is another justification for a safety procedure. This usually applies to protective safety gear and the like, such as gloves, helmets, Haz-Mat suits and other materials meant to minimize damage should a spill or object fall occur. This justification can also be used for fail-safes such as machine emergency shutoffs and protocols for who might take over a position in the case that another worker is injured. Another more PR-minded way to label this justification is “damage control.”

To Improve Communication: One of the most important skills and systems in any aspect of running a business is communication. There is no way to accurately get messages across with poor channels of communication. While most people inherently know this to be true, it is rarely done well. At any rate, communication is key in safety and is definitely a good justification highlight when implementing a related policy. Improving safety through communication takes many forms, but a common one involves procedures for using incident reporting forms and paperwork for documenting safety related figures and events. In general, workers hate filling out paperwork and any procedure on reporting safety-related behavior needs to be streamlined and involve as few hoops to jump through as possible. Just like in the step where we considered “voice” and using proper wording; make forms easy to complete.

Comply with industry or OSHA or other governing body standards: When it comes down to it, sometimes the only reason you can really offer up as justification is that you are required to do something. If workers ask, let them know clearly and directly that you had to set things up as such to comply with assigned standards. But don’t stop there; whatever body assigning the rules had reasons to do so, and it’s important that you be informed about them. When talking with employees, you can then offer up coherent reasons behind the policies. Saying “OSHA requires that each worker wear protective eye wear while operating a saw to prevent flying debris from causing eye damage” is much more professional and reassuring than “we have to do it because the someone told us to.”

Making it Visual

Another part of effective communication in safety procedure writing is visuals. What’s even simpler than keeping text and copy easy to read? Just using pictures! A combination is usually a good way to go as well, explaining processes by using flow charts or other types of diagrams.

Better yet, do things both ways. While some people learn better through reading, it’s more common for people to be visual learners that more easily interpret whole processes when they are drawn out in easy to follow boxes and pictures. Ask your workers which formats work best for them – if nothing else, having input in the process is empowering and they are less likely to protest a system that they themselves helped come up with.

Keep it Cohesive

While there are generally many different safety procedures that make up a program at any business, you want to give them all a sense of uniformity. Documents should be easily identifiable as part of your safety plan and filed in the same place. Creating a logo for your safety plan, or contracting someone to brand or even manage the safety procedure process, is a great way to accomplish this uniformity.

A strong safety procedure is a clear one. Anything you do should be highly intentional and have an easily discernible purpose to not only you and your management staff but, especially, to your workers. Strike a balance in which safety is a priority, but is not stifling to employees; involve them in the decision making and safety-creating process to increase compliance. Finally, always be ready to accept feedback from those working for you and adjust your policies and procedures in accordance with this feedback. Follow these guidelines for a fresh, revitalized, and effective safety procedure plan for your workforce!

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