Danger is expensive. Accidents in your workplace can cost you in the form of workers' compensation payments, government fines and possibly lawsuits. Safety management involves steps to reduce the risk of accident and injury. Many companies do this informally, while others adopt an official safety management system.


Safety management refers to policies for reducing workplace injuries and illnesses. This can be an extensive list of safety procedures and requirements or as simple as listening to employee concerns and solving the problems they mention.

Informal Safety Management

Many organizations have safety management policies in place even if they don't think of them that way. Safety policy may be as simple as reminding everyone to put on their protective goggles or hardhats before they start work or telling employees that the restaurant beverage station needs mopping at lunch to prevent slips and falls. If employees see a new safety issue, you listen and resolve it.

If that works for you and your employees and meets all safety regulations, that level of safety management may be good enough. Many businesses don't have a high safety risk. For example, accountancy firms are at much lower risk for injury than construction workers on the high iron.

If that's not good enough, it may be time to think about an organized safety management system. A formal system for minimizing safety hazards at work is a good choice if injury is an occupational risk. It's also useful as your company grows and expands to the point where ad hoc safety measures aren't adequate.

The 5 Elements of Safety

Safety management systems have been around for a while, so safety experts have recommendations for what makes them work. For example, a good program should include the five elements of safety:

  1. Management commitment. If safety is really important, you and your team have to commit time and resources to safety management. That includes drawing up safety guidelines, communicating them to employees and spending the money needed to reduce risks. You also have to hold supervisors accountable for accidents that happen on their watch.

  2. Hazard assessment. To manage safety, you have to know the risks. Reviewing past records of on-the-job accidents and illnesses can show you where the problems lie. Employee surveys can tell you more. Prioritize the worst hazards and begin working to eliminate them.

  3. Safety rules. A safety management system needs written rules. They should include procedures for protecting personal safety, reporting hazards, treating injuries and setting penalties for people who break the rules. They should be clear enough that managers and employees can understand them.

  4. Safety training. Employees need to learn about risks they face, the safety procedures they have to follow and the equipment they'll be using. Supervisors need to understand the risks, the procedures and their role in keeping employees safe.

  5. Tracking performance. Like everything else in business, a system that looks good on paper may fall apart in practice. You need to track the real-world performance and go back to the drawing board if the system isn't managing safety effectively.

The Safety Challenge

When setting up a safety management system, you may run into obstacles. Most businesses already have to comply with federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations plus state regulations and industry-specific safety requirements. You have to draft your safety program so that it's compatible with your existing safety rules and doesn't conflict with the regulations.

A second challenge is the one that affects many new programs and systems: People resist change. Supervisors may decide they have bigger problems than your new system, and employees who have always done it the old, riskier way may not want to bother with the new procedures. Convincing and training them will take time.

Getting your staff to buy in will take a serious commitment by you and your leadership team.