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What are Health & Safety Policies?

Health and safety policies include a documented set of rules and procedures intended to protect employees from illness or injury caused by their work. These policies also help to protect the organization from liability and serve to support business continuity. 

Why is it important?

Health and safety policies are critical for all employment social enterprises to have documented in some form and are especially important for organizations whose work involves manual labor or working with potentially hazardous equipment or materials. Health and safety policies:

  • Are foundational to program and business outcomes: Health and safety policies help to ensure team members are well enough to work, and they also define what to do to address any health-related emergencies or crises. These policies also help to prevent injury and missed work (and therefore downtime and decreased productivity). 
  • Create confidence among staff and organizational stakeholders: When staff see that the organization has developed thoughtful health and safety policies that are enforced and followed, they feel safe and cared for. Additionally, health and safety policies send a signal to stakeholders such as the board or funders that the organization recognizes the importance of protecting its valuable team members. 
  • Help to protect the employment social enterprise from liability: A minimum level of health and safety policies are required by federal law, and more may be required based on the state or industry in which an organization operates. Additionally, having these policies in place can reduce the organization’s liability and help it to successfully mitigate lawsuits or workers compensation claims. 

Self-assessment checklist

All organizations should have at least some documented form of health and safety policies. Your employment social enterprise should pay special attention to its health and safety policies if:
  • There are policies that are required by local, state, or federal regulations and / or for your organization’s specific industry.
  • Its operations involve work that is manual labor-intensive.
  • It works with a focus population with a high rate of physical, mental, or emotional health-related challenges.
  • Team members regularly work with potentially hazardous or dangerous equipment or materials as a part of their job (this includes having to drive or ride in vehicles frequently in order to complete their work). 

Best practices 

  • Getting started with the basics
    • Assess if any job hazards are urgent: Identify any major hazards on job sites or in any of your facilities (the guidance in “Step One” of the Operations Improvement Playbook may be helpful, as well as Society for HR Management’s job hazard analysis). Any team members that work with or near a major hazard should immediately receive guidance on how to avoid the hazard or how to mitigate risks. Or, if the hazard cannot be avoided or if risks cannot be mitigated, all work related to that hazard should cease until guidance can be put in place. 
    • Determine if any team members are in crisis: Take the time to check in with your team members, or at the very least with supervisors and managers, to get a pulse for how team members are doing. The top priority is ensuring that no team members are in crisis or nearing crisis and – if there is a crisis situation – it is addressed urgently. Be creative and invest time in this activity. For example, consider setting aside a budget for something as simple as a 30-minute, 1-on-1 coffee break between managers and team members to get a good assessment.
    • Review what policies may be required by your industry or by government regulations: Reference the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for federal guidelines on what may be required of your organization when it comes to health and safety policies. Additionally, check in with your organization’s insurance provider(s) to verify what standards may be required by their policies. If you need to verify what type of insurance coverage is required by your state or industry, this site may be useful. 
    • Accommodate employees with health conditions: For employees who require it due to health conditions or impairments, offer options like remote work or reasonable on-site accommodations
    • Lead by example with good health and safety practices: One of the most effective and simple ways to establish good health and safety is through leading by example. Signal the importance of health and safety to your team members through your actions (e.g., wearing protective equipment to include goggles or masks when appropriate, obeying traffic laws, or demonstrating good safety practices when using hand and power tools).  
    • Ensure everyone knows the steps to take in the event of a work-related emergency: It is essential that all team members know what to do if there is an emergency on the job. At a minimum, this usually includes getting to safety, calling 911, and contacting a supervisor. Reference OSHA’s minimum requirements for an emergency action plan (EAP) for more.
  • Keeping momentum with high-performance practices  
    • Keep an open dialogue about health and safety, and ensure all team members are comfortable reporting issues: This includes getting input on issues that may require addressing. It’s critical to take team member input seriously and follow up.  It may not be necessary to address all issues urgently, but it’s important that team members feel as though the issues they raise are acknowledged. 
    • Allocate sufficient resources to developing and maintaining policies: Appoint staff to consistently review policies and develop new policies either proactively (to newly identified issues or concerns) or reactively (after an incident has occurred). It may also be useful to assign one member of the leadership team as being the lead on all health and safety issues.
    • Conduct regular training: Especially for jobs or tasks with inherent dangers, conduct regular training on the correct procedures for working around hazards and completing the job safely. You can also use these trainings as opportunities for development by offering more experienced team members a chance to demonstrate their knowledge and train their peers.
    • Establish reporting processes and procedures: Document and communicate clear steps for how to respond to, resolve, and record incidents. Use process improvement guidance as well as guidance on key metric development to establish effective procedures and enhance how the information is used to improve health and safety.
    • Consider integrating overall employee wellbeing benefits into your broader people strategy: Promote frequent breaks and offer resources for mental health for employees. In conjunction with your broader human resources (HR) policies and people strategy, consider offering benefits that further employee wellbeing and that also promote overall program and business outcomes.
    • Develop a culture of continuous improvement around health and safety: Continuous improvement is a part of organizational culture, and is achieved by recognizing that there’s always an opportunity to incrementally improve how an organization develops and implements its health and safety policies. 

Additional Resources

About Emerging Market Enterprises

Emerging Market Enterprises (EME) is an advisory firm based in Washington, DC, that works with startups, scaleups, and intermediaries in the impact ecosystem. EME provides a variety of services to its clients and partners to include market strategy, operations improvement, and leadership coaching.