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Canadian health and safety legislation requires employers to have a health and safety program in their workplace. A written occupational health and safety policy helps define and promote an effective OHS program. Such a policy should communicate the employer’s commitment to a healthy and safe workforce, be signed by senior management, be reviewed regularly, and updated as needed.
This document will assist in writing and applying an OHS policy for the workplace.
CSA Standard Z45001-19 “Occupational health and safety management systems — Requirements with guidance for use” defines an OHS policy as “ intentions and direction of an organization, as formally expressed by its top management.”
The Gage dictionary defines “policy” as “a plan of action; a course or method of action that has been deliberately chosen and that guides or influences future decisions.”
In other words, an occupational health and safety policy guides actions. A policy indicates the degree of an employer's commitment to health and safety. The statement of the employers' obligation should be to meet, or ideally exceed, their legal duties.
There are many differences in form and content of corporate policies. Their style, however, is not as important as the clarity with which they identify functional responsibilities over authority.
To be effective, a policy should:
The policy should also cover:
An employer may delegate the preparation of the policy. The policy should be written in consultation with the health and safety committee or representative, workers or their representatives, and the involvement of management. However, the written policy statement is a pledge to employees and therefore the employer is ultimately responsible for its content. It should be approved, dated, and signed by the senior executive of the organization (e.g., the president or chief executive officer).
Often OHS policies are implemented using one or more written procedures. Procedures are defined as a “specified way to carry out an activity or a process” by the CSA Standard Z45001-19 “Occupational health and safety management systems — Requirements with guidance for use”.
These are some of the major items to consider. The procedure should:
While the assignment of responsibilities must be a complete list customized to the type of work and organizational structure, avoid being too specific that it makes people become too legalistic in interpreting the policy. For example, it may not be necessary to list the specific type of personal protective equipment that must be worn by a worker in a policy - simply state that all workers must use the personal protective equipment specified by the employer and as required by the nature of the work. As needed, this level of detail may be conveyed in a procedure. Procedures are generally more flexible, and this method allows changes to be made as circumstances warrant.
Responsibility should be extended throughout the organizational structure to ensure policy objectives will become integrated into all activities. For example, a policy could specify:
The policy must be communicated to relevant parties in languages they understand. Ways in which the OHS policy and responsibilities can be communicated include through:
After the OHS policy has been prepared and implemented, it must be monitored to assess its effectiveness. The policy must be updated where improvements are needed. Some ways to monitor the effectiveness of the OHS policy include:
How often the policy must be reviewed must be established. The frequency may be required by applicable OHS legislation. It is recommended that the OHS policy be reviewed at least annually. A review may also be conducted before the scheduled revision date, especially when there is a change to the workplace that affect the policy, or the health and safety of workers.
The OHS policy must be recommunicated to all relevant parties whenever it is revised.
In review, here is a sample of a series of questions that could be used as a "Yes / No" checklist: