Workplace Safety

A Guide for Small and Midsized Companies
By Dan Hopwood Steve Thompson

John Wiley & Sons

Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-7821-3604-3

Chapter One

Introduction: What Is Workplace Safety?

Hundreds of books have been written on the broad field of safety and health management, and thousands more can be added when considering specific safety and health considerations and processes focused on given industries. Coupled with academic research, journal articles, and regulatory writings, the field of workplace safety has a considerable volume of work behind it. In large part, these materials have been published for the safety practitioner or those with some existing knowledge of workplace safety and some academic background or training. Such books, guides, articles, and research papers have created a bridge from the basics of safety and health, to program development and management, to more complex issues, such as specific hazard controls, toxicology, and the role human behavior plays in managing workplace safety, with toxicology and human behavior serving as general examples. In addition, many provide information and guidance toward regulatory compliance. All were written with the goal of reducing the potential for workers and an organization's other constituents, such as the general public, to become injured or ill. In most cases, these writings have focused on a specific readership; a few have been much broader in their scope, hoping to appeal to wide audiences. Very few have recognized the distinction in the size of a business or, more specifically, the differences in available managerial and economic resources as well as the technical capabilities within a company or those assigned to manage workplace safety.

Clearly, then, the ability to manage workplace safety effectively hinges on several critical considerations, such as:

Establishing a clear commitment to safety

Identifying unsafe actions and conditions

Providing resources for safety training (including advanced safety training for a supervisor)

Assigning someone the task of safety or assuming it yourself, and providing the resources (time and money)

Who should read this book? Although many will benefit from a review of its contents, this book's major audiences are intended to be the executive of a small-to-midsized company tasked with workplace safety (among many other duties!), the human resources professional, the operations manager, or those vested with collateral safety and health management duties, along with individuals relatively new to the field of workplace safety management.

There are several ways to answer the opening question of this book, "What is workplace safety?" and its sister question, "Why is workplace safety important?" We'll begin with some thoughts on the challenges of managing such programs as a mechanism to begin addressing the query. Although seemingly easy, the answer focuses upon several critical considerations that are equally important; for example, it's just as critical to discuss the challenges of managing workplace safety programs as it is to highlight the objective steps that actually guide a workplace safety program to fruition. Both of these considerations are no more important than the development of the skills to identify hazards in the workplace or the ability to maintain effective workplace safety training programs. As you will see, workplace safety management is a complex set of activities, all focused on one outcome: reducing or eliminating injuries, illnesses, and incidents.

This chapter discusses additional considerations focused on managing programs, understanding the link between knowledge of operations and workplace safety, identifying hazards, and getting programs started. We also outline some of the major challenges those responsible for workplace safety (you) will face on the journey to successful program development and deployment.

For many, the management of workplace safety programs has long been seen as a complicated issue. This perspective exists for many reasons. Such reasons are found in the confidence necessary to:

Deploy a workplace safety program

Truly understand the nature of the hazards your business and workers are exposed to

Ensure that regulatory mandates are being met

Each is an essential goal within a workplace safety program, and separately they comprise critical aspects of the program. Taken together, they begin to set the stage for success; however, the safety practitioner is faced with many other challenges in developing an effective workplace safety program and ensuring its success. This chapter, as it answers the question "What is workplace safety management?" also addresses the management issues noted above and more importantly, why it is important to assure their success.

To a large extent, this book is designed to moderate those challenges by breaking workplace safety management into discrete, bite-size elements, both tactical and strategic. Additionally, this book is intended to assist the reader to capitalize on the efforts required to manage workplace safety programs while tasked with a myriad of other responsibilities. Workplace safety management must be given its proper place within an organization's many initiatives, and this can be accomplished only by achieving both an understanding of need and the basic skills to build a program and control it effectively.

Workplace safety programs are only one among many for which time and other resources must be made available. These programs must receive the proper attention, but neither more or less than necessary. It is best, however, to blend workplace safety management programs with operations and other programs. In larger organizations, these programs may be managed by human resources, for example. However, in the small and midsized company, management most often falls to you.

By understanding the strategic and tactical aspects of workplace safety management programs, and their related elements, you as "safety practitioner" can dedicate your time and that of others, and rally the necessary resources to ensure that a meaningful program is constructed. Without this understanding, something critical will be missing from the final product.

There is one very important distinction to point out now. This book is about the management of a workplace safety program. Our intention is to provide you with the insights necessary to structure and manage a program; we do not aim to teach you each and every intricacy of being a safety professional.


As you move through the chapters in this book, a picture will be painted, if you will, with the broad strokes of the strategic and tactical aspects of workplace safety programs (see Exhibit 1.1). The detail will be painted as the book unfolds. These efforts include highlighting the attributes of workplace safety programs and the activities necessary to ensure their success.

The strategic aspects include the rationale for:

Programs Management commitment and support Regulatory compliance Program development and deployment

As you might suspect, the strategic aspects of workplace safety management plans lay the foundation for planning efforts and are those intended to ensure that plans are not short-lived.

In addition, the picture will include the tactical elements of workplace safety management. These elements include:

Hazard identification

Hazard control

Linkages to other management functions (i.e., disciplinary measures and access to employee assistance programs; see Exhibit 1.2)

Investigation of incidents, such as injuries, illnesses, and near misses

Employee health and safety training

Understanding the links to programs associated with workplace safety, or those that mutually benefit safety, are important for a number of very good reasons, including:

If there are other programs that benefit from workplace safety activities and programs, management tends to lend a greater deal of support. This is the case for many reasons, including program-related economies of scale (i.e., through the development of one program, another benefits). Such is the case with workplace safety management and workers' compensation programs, for example.

Cost control. As you might suspect, controlling injuries and illnesses also helps an organization control and even reduce its workers' compensation insurance costs.

Greater degree of centralized management and program control.

These are particularly important for the small and midsized company, where it is typical for members of the management team to wear more than one hat and have responsibility for more than one function.

More detail will be provided on both the strategic and tactical aspects of workplace safety management in other chapters.

The tactical aspects of safety and health programs are the "what" of programs, compared to the strategic aspects, which are the "why." One cannot succeed without the other, and as you can see from Exhibit 1.2, many other human resources functions are related to workplace safety or are aided by workplace safety efforts.

So far we have been setting the stage for what workplace safety is. It should be fairly clear that such programs are not comprised entirely of just written words. If they were, then every company would borrow someone else's and declare it is finished with the planning process. The authors, with nearly 50 combined years of experience, can tell you that is never the case.


Workplace safety management-and management is a key operative word in our overview-is the synthesis of three very important considerations:

Consistent management effort

Employee involvement

Programming and the practice of the tactical aspects of workplace safety management

Consistent Management Effort

Even though many employers have tried, it is rare for a workplace safety program to succeed without consistent management effort (putting a plan together), involvement (leading by example), and dedicating the proper resources (time, materials, and money) to a program. There is a wide variation in what may be required from the resource allocation perspective among organizations. This is a function of size, the nature of the hazards employees are exposed to, regulatory requirements, and many other factors.

Employee Involvement

As we have uncovered during the development and analysis of literally hundreds of workplace safety programs, without the proverbial employee buy-in, few programs have any chance for success. This is the case for many reasons. Key among them is that employees feel a keen desire to be part of meaningful activities, and in fact, most often they have a considerable amount to contribute to the planning process. Who, for example, knows how to conduct operations better than your experienced employees? They may very well have recommendations or enhancements to safety procedures that can make great differences in reducing future hazards and employee exposure to injury or illness. Later chapters will cover this in more detail.

Practicing the Tactical Aspects

Workplace safety programs should be used as tools to improve operations and processes. This cannot happen if the tactical aspects of programs are not consistently utilized or practiced.

For example, organizations that enforce the tactical element of incident investigations are able to determine if an unsafe act or unsafe condition was the underlying cause of an injury or illness. With this information, employee training can be improved, or better focused, and operational improvements can be implemented.

The definition of management includes planning, leading, organizing, and controlling. There is no better way to frame the functional aspects of workplace safety management. Workplace safety management programs perform poorly when they are reactive in nature. As you will learn soon, to be reactive implies that the hazards associated with a job or tasks are allowed to exist before any preventive action is taken. The implication is that only outcomes (injuries and illnesses) are responded to. Thus, the reactive approach never attacks the root causes of these outcomes. Many employers respond only to that which has already happened and never look at what is causing an injury or illness to develop. Clearly, this approach is contraindicated if a management program that works is in existence.

A program that has plan-ahead features, such as hazard inspections and more detailed job hazard analyses, is capable of identifying physical, chemical, biological, and ergonomic as well as psychological and operational hazards and of mitigating them prior to adverse outcomes. As you might suspect, the ability to identify and mitigate these hazards is the hallmark of better-than-average workplace safety plans.

Workplace safety management does include planning-planning for resources (whether people or materials) and all of the activities that go along with maintaining a management program. Once marshaled, these resources, particularly the organization's human resources, require utilization. All human resources must be "playing from the same page and sheet of music" regarding workplace safety management. If this is not the case, then a discordant program effort will follow, with the result being injuries and illnesses.

The leadership associated with workplace safety programs actually can come from several sources. However, it is absolutely essential that a great deal of program leadership be vested with the individual or individuals who actually oversee the program and are held accountable for its results. To put it simply, those who are the consumers of the program-the employees-require a very clear picture of who's in charge.

Because workplace safety programs require resources, they must be organized to obtain peak efficiencies. The first three management elements typically are linked to the strategic aspects of a workplace safety program. The tactical aspects traditionally are tied to the management element of control. This link is fairly simple, since the tactical aspects of workplace safety plans include training, incident investigations, hazard identification, and hazard control.

Workplace safety management requires program planning and resource availability. It also requires active leadership and organization to assure consistent deployment. In addition, workplace safety management requires controlling exposures to injury and illness. This criterion further delineates what workplace safety management is: those tactics that are implemented to reduce and, whenever possible, eliminate the factors that allow injuries and illnesses to develop. These factors are found in both unsafe acts and unsafe conditions.

Workplace safety management programs are not self-written or self-sustaining. As with many other programs, as they are integrated within the fabric of an organization and nurtured, it is much easier to maintain them and ensure that they are having a meaningful impact.


Workplace safety management requires an understanding of two basic definitions. More specifically, it requires defining the differences in health and safety. Understanding health and safety-the words and what they mean-is essential to your success in managing such programs. We want to take a different approach with the definitions of health and safety. Sure, we could grab a dictionary and look up what it has to say about the two words. Those are textbook definitions. Although they are important and certainly help to establish a framework for our understanding of program needs, we want you to become familiar with the working world definitions. Familiarity will make all the difference when you begin to apply the tactical aspects of workplace safety management programs on a consistent basis.


Excerpted from Workplace Safety by Dan Hopwood Steve Thompson Copyright © 2006 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Excerpted by permission.
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