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Safety First and Last: April 2015

Every employer should have a health and safety management system. Such a system describe, in written form, what an employer will do to protect workers and who has what responsibilities for those actions. Such a system, when it performs properly, then forms the basis upon which an employer may establish due diligence in the event of an accident or incident.


March 26, 2015
By Jeff Thorne

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An important component of health and safety is the concept of IRS. The Internal Responsibility System is a philosophy; a way of understanding that health and safety is most effective in a workplace if all members are engaged and involved in the process of making the workplace as safe as possible. It is important that an employer publicly endorse this idea and communicate it to clients, workers and contractors. This, in turn, leads many organizations to create and post a health and safety policy statement. The statement identifies the employer and expressly states that management believes in making a workplace as safe as possible and that the process is the responsibility of everyone in the workplace. By everyone, we mean those at the very top of the organization’s corporate structure down to the frontline workers.

Once an employer has enunciated its commitment to health and safety in a policy statement, the next step is to create individual programs to manage how an organization will handle various topics and situations as they relate to this area of concern. Every employer should have rules that outline how it expects workers to behave and what workers should know about specific hazards. An important example of this would be a hazard reporting policy.

Suppose a worker is walking across an outdoor yard and is nearly struck by a client’s vehicle. In the absence of a stated policy, it is entirely possible that the worker, shaken though he or she might be, would not say anything about the incident. Perhaps the worker thinks the client was not driving slowly enough, but suspects management would not want to upset a client by reprimanding their driving behaviour. Or maybe, the almost-struck worker thinks they will be blamed for not watching out carefully enough for yard traffic. Either way we have a dangerous situation that has not been reported to management and the continued existence of such a situation does not serve the interests of management.

What is in the interest of management is to know exactly what is happening in the workplace at all times. Therefore, there should be a policy in place that addresses the issue of reporting hazards to management. In this example, the worker would report to a supervisor what had just occurred. The worker knows they have to do this because there is a written, documented policy. The existence of such a policy means that all the workers have all been trained in its existence and significance. Now, once a report is made, that report will be passed on and management will have the opportunity to deal with this particular problem. Management may choose to put up speed signs or warning messages. They might also elect to address workers, for instance in a tool-talk meeting, and reinforce management’s message that they are very concerned about inappropriate driving in the yard. They may emphasize that they especially want to continue to hear about any near misses, which will help to inform their decisions about the necessity of further measures. If this occurrence has lead to a documented report, then we have a basis for written evidence that management has responded to, and not ignored, a potentially dangerous incident. Such a report could become a very important document with respect to a due diligence defense in other circumstances.

Perhaps most importantly, the worker will know exactly how management chooses to interpret the events and he will come to understand that management does take his personal safety seriously. This, in turn, will serve to strengthen the culture of safety in the workplace and foster an atmosphere that encourages workers to participate in the processes of workplace safety. And that is what IRS is all about.


Jeff Thorne is manager of training and consulting at Occupational Safety Group.


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