For years, as both a consultant and auditor, I’ve come across companies who have struggled with their health and safety documents. Here are some key ideas to think about:
1.Make them reflect your business and don’t say things you’re not going to do. As an auditor, a regular frustration is companies whose documents don’t match what they do.
2.Think about what you want it to achieve and who will be reading it. Trying to include everything about health and safety, that relates to your business, can make a document lengthy and difficult to read. The days of manuals for this purpose have been superseded by improved ways of providing information such as training videos.
3.Health and safety expectations and requirements change on a regular basis, and increasingly companies and training organisations can refer to rules which aren’t legal requirements. Be clear about what is the legal expectation (as outlined in an Approved Code or Standard).
4.Keep your documents up to date, I still regularly review companies documents that talk about out of date concepts such as eliminate, isolate, minimise reflecting the now repealed Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992. It doesn’t instil confidence in the company’s health and safety.
5.Having thorough procedures and good records becomes very important if something goes wrong.
6.Be consistent about your language. For example, a Policy is a statement about your thinking and expectations about an issue, whereas a Procedure explains a way of doing something to achieve the Policy.
7.Getting the right balance of content and simplicity is crucial, the degree of risk should also be a factor. Include a greater level of detail around issues that are complex and high risk. It is also important to use plain language whenever possible, as health and safety is a field that is cluttered with esoteric language.
8.Many companies struggle with their health and safety system if they lose a key staff member who had a thorough understanding of how things are done. Having clear and thorough procedures documented does help to mitigate this problem.
9.Graphics can make documents easier to understand. Whenever possible, use diagrams or flowcharts to demonstrate a process.
10.Develop a review process so that you can go back and consider whether the document is achieving its aim, and whether it could be improved or simplified.
I hope this helps and gives you something to think about. Sometimes too much emphasis is placed on the paperwork and not the practice. However, doing a good job of the health and safety documents certainly helps make a health and safety system effective.
If you need help with your health and safety documents or would like further advice, visit us at www.avidplus.co.nz or contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.