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Developing a health & safety program

Though every workplace and every occupational health and safety (OHS) program are different, there are some key elements common to all programs. Here you will find what you need to develop an effective program that will prevent injuries and illness in your workplace.

This policy should document your commitment (as an employer) to the health and safety program and to your workers.

In addition to this commitment, put in writing what you'd like your health and safety program to achieve. Some possibilities include:

  • Preventing injuries
  • Minimizing risks
  • Keeping employees healthy
  • Complying with law and policy
  • Continually improving health and safety

Also write down your rights and responsibilities as an employer, and those of your workers and supervisors.

You can write the policy in just a few paragraphs. Make sure it is easy to understand. It should be signed by the CEO or senior manager on-site. It should also be dated and reviewed annually.

Be sure to share the policy with workers. Let them know how important it is to the organization. It’s a good idea to provide a copy to all new employees, and to post it in the workplace where it can easily be seen.

No workplace is risk-free and managing hazards in your workplace is critical. Regular inspections by you or a supervisor will help identify new hazards and eliminate or control them as they arise. During an inspection, you need to:

  • Look for physical hazards related to equipment, machinery, and materials.
  • Observe and examine how work procedures are being done and assess the risks.
  • Enlist the help of employees. Members of your health and safety committee, or your worker health and safety representative, often have valuable insights into job tasks and how to make them safer.
  • Remedy serious hazards or unsafe work practices right away. For example, if a ladder has a loose or damaged rung, repair it immediately or replace the ladder with one that is undamaged. Deal with other hazards as soon as reasonably possible.
  • Record and tell your workers about all significant findings.

There are different kinds of inspections:

Regular, planned workplace inspections These inspections cover buildings, structures, grounds, excavations, tools, equipment, machinery, and work practices for hazards that might cause injury or disease. You might start by conducting inspections once a month. Depending on the findings of your inspections, you may find it necessary to hold them more often — twice a month, weekly, or even more often, depending on your circumstances. Different departments may need a different frequency of inspections due to the nature of the work activities.
Equipment inspections

Workers must be trained to regularly inspect their machinery, tools, and equipment according to manufacturers' recommendations.

Special inspections After a malfunction or incident, a special inspection must take place. Work must not continue until it is safe.

At a minimum, you must have written procedures describing how to safely carry out high-risk or complex tasks, such as lockout or confined space entry. Post the procedures at all relevant workstations and use them to train employees.

The process of developing a written safe work procedure for a hazardous task includes the following four steps:

  1. Determine the overall task that requires a safe work procedure.
  2. Break down the task into its basic steps.
  3. Identify the hazards associated with each step, and ways to eliminate or minimize the risks to workers from these hazards.
  4. Write the safe work procedure — the list of actions that workers must do when performing the task.

Not all tasks require detailed written procedures. In fact, safety issues for some tasks can be addressed verbally in crew talks or during training. When deciding whether or not written procedures are required, take the following into consideration:

  • Requirements of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation
  • Hazard level
  • Number of workers doing the work
  • Experience level of the workers
  • Frequency of work
  • Severity of injuries if safe work procedures aren't followed
  • Recommendations as a result of an inspection or investigation

When developing safe work procedures, consult your joint health and safety committee (if you have one) or your worker health and safety representative, as well as workers who actually do the job.

Assessing risk isn't always easy. If you’re not sure whether you need to write detailed procedures for a particular task or activity, ask yourself:

  • How high is the level of hazard involved in the task?
  • How many employees perform the task?
  • What is the experience of the workers doing that task?
  • How frequently is the task performed?
  • What is the severity of potential injuries if the task is not performed safely?

In your procedures, be sure to list any necessary personal protective equipment (PPE), when it must be used, and where that equipment can be found.

Be sure to review these procedures whenever a job changes, new equipment is introduced, or workers return after being away for a long period of time.

For more information about developing safe work procedures, see Creating and Managing a Healthy and Safe Workplace. We have resources and information to help you manage common risks in specific industries, including hazards and exposures and tools, equipment, and machinery.

You need to provide or review orientation for workers when they:

  • Start a new job
  • Go to a new worksite or department
  • Face new hazards, such as working with new equipment
  • Perform new tasks

During an orientation, you'll explain to workers what their rights and responsibilities are, and emphasize the importance of not performing tasks they’re not trained to do safely. Encourage workers to ask questions if they are uncertain about how to do a task safely.

As part of the orientation:

  1. Prepare written safety procedures for potentially hazardous tasks.
  2. Show new workers where they will be working and demonstrate their tasks.
  3. Show them where they can find first aid assistance and/or equipment and emergency exits.
  4. Make sure they understand what they’ve been taught. For a few weeks or months following the orientation, provide supervision to ensure they’re following procedures.
  5. Document the orientation. Give workers a copy of the worker orientation checklist and any other relevant materials. For a sample worker orientation checklist, please see Support for employers: Training and orientation for young and new workers.

In order to help ensure workers can do their jobs safely, you need to provide education and/or training.

Generally, education refers to formal classroom instruction that may include lectures, discussions, and videos. Training refers to hands-on, job-specific instruction to individuals or small groups. Typically, training involves demonstrations and active participation by workers so you or a supervisor can confirm that workers fully understand safe work procedures.

Supervisors play a key role in health and safety training. They need to:

  • Provide adequate instruction on safe procedures.
  • Observe workers after training to ensure they continue to follow safe work procedures.
  • Observe workers daily to ensure safe work procedures are being followed, including proper use of protective equipment, devices, and clothing provided.
  • Enforce the health and safety rules.
  • Lead informal discussions (crew talks) with workers to discuss specific safety issues as they arise.

Education and training topics may include how to avoid known hazards and what to do about new potential hazards, where to find PPE and how to use and care for it, and specific safe work practices — such as those relating to lockout or cash deposits.

It’s a good idea to maintain an education and training record for each worker, listing dates and topics covered. Reviewing the records from time to time helps ensure training requirements have been met.

Health and safety programs can include either a worker health and safety representative or a joint health and safety committee that meets at least once each month.

The representative or committee works with you to identify unsafe conditions and practices, then resolve them. Regular meetings are essential so you can address any safety issues quickly.

In a formal health and safety program, management meetings are required to review health and safety activities and incident trends. These meetings can be used to:

  • Review existing policies and procedures.
  • Review feedback from workers and address any other questions or concerns brought forward.
  • Discuss general information about workplace injury and disease prevention, and how to improve the existing health and safety program.

Any decisions management makes about health and safety matters should be communicated back to supervisors and workers in a timely and clear manner.

After any incident that requires medical treatment for a worker, and any potentially serious near misses, you need to conduct an investigation into why the incident happened. As with inspections, these investigations should involve at least one worker representative. Your goals are to:

  • Determine the cause of the incident
  • Identify any unsafe conditions or procedures that contributed to the incident
  • Find ways to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future
  • Prepare an incident investigation report and, if necessary, file it with us

Note that certain serious incidents must be immediately reported to us.

When safety-related incidents do happen on the job, both employers and WorkSafeBC have certain responsibilities. Incident investigations help identify root causes and hazards while finding ways to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future. Two different investigations take place after an incident occurs: an employer investigation and a WorkSafeBC investigation.

You are responsible for immediately reporting serious incidents to us, including when a worker is seriously injured or killed, a building collapses, or there is a major release of a hazardous substance. This is not the same as reporting injuries as part of a claim.

Keeping up-to-date health and safety records is important for identifying and resolving repeat problems, as well as providing material for education and training.

You need to keep the following types of records:

  • Health and safety program reviews
  • Worker orientation records
  • Inspection reports
  • Health and safety meeting records
  • Incident investigation reports
  • First aid records

At least once every year, you should review your health and safety program and discuss with your workers ways to improve it. Look for any changes in the workplace that might affect health and safety, including any new hazards. As part of your review, make sure you continue to be compliant with the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation.