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How to Write Safety Procedures

November 20, 2013

By Wayne J Harris

Writing Safety Procedure

As safety practitioners we need to understand that procedures can be the nemesis of any occupational health and safety (OHS) management system.  Getting it wrong can be the difference between success and failure in safety compliance.

Sometimes procedures are created too rigid and bureaucratic, and other times they’re non-specific and ineffectual. The point is no one wants to be under the burden of unnecessary or unusable procedures. What is needed is the right balance of simple instructions that are easy to read and comprehend.

Developing your Safety Procedures

Procedures should communicate to employees what they need to know to do their job safely. Here are 5 simple steps to follow:

  1. Justification – Ensure there is a genuine reason for writing a procedure.
  2. Identify User – Who will be the using the procedures and  the task involved.
  3. Procedure Format – Use a simple and free-flowing method.
  4. Writing Style – Make sure you write for the intended user.
  5. Document Control

Step 1: Justification

The number one rule is to make sure there’s a justifiable reason to create a procedure. It will be impossible to develop effective health and safety procedures unless you have a clear idea of what you want them to achieve.  For example your objective might be to:

  • Improvement of working practices.
  • Reduce the number and severity of incidents.
  • Provide a written record of safety instruction.
  • Improve communication.
  • Comply with legislation.
  • Comply with ISO or industry standards.

Step 2:  Identification of who will be using the Procedure and the Task involved

It is important that you identify the end-users of any procedure before you start writing. As the procedure writer, you want a clear understanding of what’s going on in as much detail as possible. So you need to gather relevant information from employees who are working on the task involved

Step 3:  Procedure Format

Once you have all the information you then need to cut it down to simple stages that the end-user can understand. You may also find that using words alone is not the best option within a procedure. Sometimes you might have to use other elements to help communicate a process.  Always consider the following options:

Flowchart – This shows a process as a simple diagram. By using a series of symbols and arrows to indicate flow and action you can outline a process and make it easy to follow.

Tip: Don’t complicate your chart with too many symbols or too much text. It should flow naturally from start to finish and be structured in a logical way.

Photographs or Diagrams – Are commonly used especially where there is difficulty in communicating due to illiteracy or use of multiple languages. The main goal of visualisation is to make it possible to absorb large amounts of data quickly.

Tip:  The saying “A picture is worth a thousand words” refers to the notion that a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single still image. However just make sure you check that your image or diagram is saying the right words to employees.

Step 4: Writing Style.

Remember when you write you need to consider the end-user, the person who has to read and understand your procedure. To ensure success adopt the following simple rules of writing;

  • Use plain everyday English words or local language. The use of uncommon, long or complex words or sentences should be avoided where possible.
  • Keep to short paragraphs and avoid using too many words. Just be specific enough to communicate clearly.
  • Write at the appropriate reading level.
  • Try to keep the procedure itself to a reasonable size ideally 1 to 3 pages. Any more than this and you chances of employee acceptance start to slip away.

Well-written procedures will help improve the quality of work within your organisation, reduce the number of mistakes, and help people perform complex tasks safely.

Quality Control of Safety Documents

Step 5: Document Control

When it comes to safety procedures the question of document control is always of concern. Any procedure must be clearly identifiable and traceable. Ideally try to keep it to the basics controls for example;

Page Header: Procedure number and the Title of the Procedure

Page Footer:  Date of Issue: Revision Number, and Page number i.e, “Page 1 of 2”

Some companies include a cover sheet, index and legal references etc., which are taking up space and generally not needed.  There is nothing more annoying than seeing a procedures consisting of 5 pages, yet only 2 are actually defining the process.

Summary:

Many people find writing procedures a daunting task. Yet it can be a rewarding experience as it allows you to directly interface with other employees across the organisation.

Remember there are many ways to write procedures, but by following simple rules you will have a higher chance of success. Make sure the procedure is absolutely necessary. Write it in a way that’s easily understood using simple words and keep it as short as possible.

45 Comments
  1. Cipriano Corva permalink

    Thanks Wayne, good advice. For members interested in developing an effective and compliant OHS Management System (to AS/NZS 4801-2001) for Australian and New Zealand requirements, I have a master (generic) document which I have developed over many years; and can be tailored to the particular company or client needs. Anyone wishing to obtain a full copy of this manual (generic) or to discuss how it can be tailored to any organisation’s operational needs, please contact me email: cipcorva@bigpond.com

    • Peter J. Vandu permalink

      Thanks for your offer Mr. Cipriano. I have been following Mr. Wayne’s blogs which I must confess I learned a lot from him
      I can not thank him enough for the knowladge he impacted in me with all these his blogs
      my e-mail address is petervandu@yahoo.com I will like a copy of that your generic document

      Thanks

    • messaoud permalink

      Thank you for you advice forword, Yes I am interessed to see your generic my E-mail: mezzarm@yahoo.fr

    • L.Jones permalink

      good looking out for the info. I am interested

      • Cipriano Corva permalink

        L. Jones, Send me your email address and I will supply.
        Cip

  2. Kim Hedges permalink

    Thanks Wayne, that might be useful to me in the future.

  3. Jason Curtis permalink

    The most appropriate justification for any procedure is a formal risk assessment, when reviewing procedures review your risk controls and ammend your risk assessment and procedures accordingly.

  4. shajahan permalink

    its a good briefing and really useful. Thanks!

  5. Asaolu Joel permalink

    Nice one for sharing your intent idea great

  6. Eric Darius Nzouekeu permalink

    thanks,to give us another step in progress

  7. Abdilkareem permalink

    Thanks Wayne useful information will you attached an example.

  8. Excellent Wayne. Love it.

  9. Emmanuel Omeike permalink

    This is short and straight forward. Great!!!!

  10. nice pointers for writing safety procedures. Thanks.

  11. Giovanni Gallo permalink

    Really useful………………l -as I do spend much thinking what to say

  12. David Mooney permalink

    I’m sorry to say this, but this is way too complicated for field use.
    If you are teaching a class then perhaps, but I am a fan of KISS based on Occam’s Razor.
    Simplest terms nets the best results.
    If there is a work process (requires steps to accomplish) that could endanger the worker performing the work or another worker, a Safe Work Procedure is required.
    1) Write out step by step, the duties to perform the work.
    2) Identify the actual and potential hazards and dangers pertaining to the work and
    3) Create controls to eliminate those dangers and hazards.
    A simple J.S.A (Job Safety Analysis) with L.M.R.A (Last Minute Risk Assessment) to cover anything that may have been missed or may arise from the performance of the work.
    I get the Supervisors and workers who will be performing the work to do this and then I go over the JSA and resulting procedure, inspect and watch to see if they are following the procedure and whether they may have missed anything important that should be added to the procedure.
    We should be writing our field reports and procedures in point form already to make our concerns clear and precise.

    • Amadi, buduburisi permalink

      Hello mr mooney, is there any difference between jsa, method statement, safe work procedure and safe system of work

    • Dear All,

      HSE Implementation at construction projects is very critical from all points of views.
      The main issue is how to guarantee workers at all levels to comply with HSE Requirements?!!!
      If the reply is negative, then what are the practical measures to be taken into such compliance for a zero accidents/ incidents out of all construction operations.
      Let us be clear with ourselves as following:-
      – Project management is only anxious for production to get more payment certificates from client regadless of HSE issues/requirements.
      – The Culture of project workers as well as the project management staff are focused on not to bother about HSE requirements even it is absloutely known to them that it will affect the production in case of development of any accidents/incidents, and also never bleave that Quality & Safety is First, and also consider that all HSE Site Staff are trouble makers for them, and sometimes subjected to non respect and insultation notwithstanding Quality/HSE Policy statements signed by Chairman/CEO.
      – The main killing Idea and thought which is still sticked in the mind of many site management/workers, that when HSE Issues arised this shall be solved only by the HSE Officers who shall do housekeeping,wiring and all other HSE requirements and precuations by his own hands so on…..
      – Therefore, all may participate into this discussion only from the point of view that what is your practical suggestion to improve the arised issues.
      – All comments to be practical and effectual as what the actions to take drasticly for the change into HSE Implementations, if possible.
      Thanks all in advance.
      Thanks in advane to all.

    • Inge Auran permalink

      Hi David Mooney.

      Agree with your points, and recognizes the importance of creating procedure. Do you have experience how risk can be described well in a procedure? Some companies I know have started to highlight the sub-operations in the procedure that has poses risks. Someone else has written short list the risks associated sub-operation. I believe in the KISS method when designing procedure combined with LMRA

      For opera tions with elevated risks should additionally perform JSA (Job Safety Analysis).

      Until now I have not read a procedure that illustrates risk, and simultaneously maintains the KISS principle!

      If you have any info or examples of such a procedure, it is desirable if you can send it to me by mail.

      With best regards Inge Auran

      • Hi Inge – forward your email address and I’ll send you a sample that includes KISS and JSA

  13. Dennis Lingo permalink

    Nice for your sharing great idea.can you send this one to my email . theynest@yahoo.com

  14. Amadi, buduburisi permalink

    Am new here, wish to get more details please,,,,,,,,,, e mail me >>>abuduburisi@yahoo.co.uk. Tnx

    • Cipriano Corva permalink

      Hi Amadi,

      I have tried to send my IMS to your personal Email: ‘abuduburisi@yahoo.co.uk.’ but it came back as Undeliverable.

      Please send me your correct email and I will send you the IMS.

      Best regards and have a Happy Xmas

      Cip

  15. Mr. Cipriano Corva
    Would request you to send me IMS on my e-mail :
    alfarms@sunengg.ae

    Thanks,
    Mohammed Saeed

    • Thanks Mr. Cipriano Corva for this IMS Document which is most valuable.

      I would request you the followings:-

      – What are the addition/deletion in the previously ISO 9001:2008 Manual to cover this IMS Manual.
      – Enlist the required IMS Procedures as per ISO 14001:2004 & ISO 18001:2007 which shall be added or in addition to ISO 9001:2008 Procedures, and if you have any Templates, Please forwarded.

      Thanks in advance.

  16. Paul Hughes permalink

    I have also found that a short sharp video is always a reliable tool to assist in training people how to do things

  17. Sir Cip kindly send me also one my e-mail which is hseretail@yahoo.com. Thanks.

  18. I am impressed! Very useful information. I have been reading your blog for some time and I find it to be very useful. Thanks.

  19. lubanga jairus permalink

    Thanks so much brothers and sisters for your contribution about this issue of safety,for sure me personally I have learned a lot and I request for a copy of the same.Also I do believe that as we discuss more and more about it, we will be able to minimize the risks or even deal with it before in hand.As you know safety issue is so wide in that it needs a lot of concentration and close working relationship with workers.To implement some procedures in working zone,you can disagree with employee because it will reduce the working speed,that means we cannot rely on them sometimes when it comes to safety issues.MY EMAIL jairuslubanga@yahoo.com

  20. I think we must be clear about the term ‘procedure’. What are we trying to achieve? A higher level Operating Procedure of a Safe Work Instruction (SWI)? Both have different requirements. The Operating Procedure is the over-arching document providing the compliance requirements, references and all the details necessary for the topic. The Safe Work Instruction is the task-based document and which may also be referred to as a procedure, but that may complicate things. The important thing is that both must be compiled consultatively, whether by a small group of workers or with more technical and expert input.

    David Mooney has hit the nail on the head and this is a method we use with our Safe Work Instructions (SWIs) which includes the job steps (in order), the identified hazards and the control options for the job as well as the necessary tasks of course. Part of the document should also include the actual risk assessment (JSA) and a process flowchart as well as reference material, document control. The document should be graphic rich and used a dot point system to keep it simple yet explanatory and brief.

    I am happy to provide an example SWI to highlight my point. If you forward your email, I will send one.

    Regards
    Pete

  21. Dave permalink

    Well done Wayne, could not have put it better myself.

  22. Cipriano Corva permalink

    Yes Peter Jones, I would be interested in seeing your SWI and JSA. I could also share some of my documents if you like.
    Regards, Cip

  23. Rosetta Ibegbu permalink

    Hi Cipriano please can I get a copy of the generic docs on OHS management system and the SWI & JSA you are wiling to share, my e-mail is rose_ibeg@yahoo.com. Thanks

  24. Arueyingho Tuoyo Edward permalink

    Your tips are straight to the point. Makes writing safety procedures very easy

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. How to Write Safety Procedures | Loditia's Weblog
  2. How to Write Safety Procedures | ISQEM | UP Equip
  3. How to Write Safety Procedures - Safety and Risk Management

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