Developing Effective Health and Safety Procedures – a Practical Guidance

Why are effective health and safety procedures important?

Health and safety procedures include the safe system of work, work instructions, permits 

Health and safety procedures consist of implementing a safe system of work, work instructions, permits, etc. These factors all ensure a safe working environment. Therefore, they usually consist of step-by-step instructions and related information needed to help carry out tasks safely. They may include checklists, decision aids, diagrams, flow charts and further job aids. 

Well-designed procedures are vital in standardising workplace practice, reducing risks and therefore reducing human error and improving compliance. 

During site health and safety inspections, audits and through reviewing incident investigation reports, we are often informed that procedures are not followed. The consequences of not following procedures or inadequate procedures can be disastrous. 

What are the Benefits of well-designed health and safety procedures?

There are many benefits of well-designed procedures, these include: 

  • Minimising errors/mistakes and failures 
  • Ensuring critical health and safety steps are carried out 
  • Providing a basis for training and employee induction 
  • Standardising working practice 
  • Protecting against loss of operating knowledge 
  • Acting as a basis for auditing and continuous improvement 
  • Identifying and promoting best practices 
  • Meeting statutory requirements 

We often hear people complain that their health and safety procedures are just paperwork. However, procedures are not about creating huge amounts of paperwork. They are more focused on identifying sensible measures to control the risks in your workplace. It is important to acknowledge if you have achieved any of the above benefits. Additionally, you must involve your employees in your company’s health and safety procedures. This makes it easier to apply your ideas. 

Why do people not follow effective health and safety procedures?

There are various common reasons employees do not follow procedures. These include: 

  • The procedures not reflecting how tasks are performed 
  • Procedures being out-dated 
  • Difficult to understand procedures 
  • No easy access to health and safety procedures 
  • Failing to understand the risks 
  • Not monitoring/enforcing health and safety procedures 
  • Too much pressure to get the job done 
  • Pressure from colleagues and peers 
  • Poor health and safety culture 

If we can understand why people do not follow procedures, we can address the root causes and improve their effectiveness. 

How to write effective procedures and improve existing procedures?

Determine the tasks that need written procedures

  • Training needs analysis;
  • Carry out an activity analysis;
  • Visit the workplace and walk-through or talk-through these tasks with employees;
  • Job Safety Analyses – identify safety-critical job or tasks, associated health and safety hazards and the control measures;
  • Review the results from risk assessment;
  • Review the results from incidents, accidents investigation, inspections and audits;
  • The industrial best practices;
  • ISO management systems – requirements for documented information;

Consider factors when deciding on the needs and the level of details needed in the procedure:

  • The risks of the tasks;
  • The consequence of possible human error;
  • The complexity of the task;
  • The difficulty of the task;
  • How often the task is performed (e.g. routine and non-routine/rare);
  • The user of the procedure;
  • The experience and skill level of users;
  • The competence of users;
  • Particular needs of the users.

Identify safety-critical tasks to control the risks:

  • Commissioning;
  • Plant start-up and shutdown;
  • Abnormal plant operation;
  • Safety-critical operations;
  • Non-company personnel, e.g. contractor activities;
  • Emergency operation;
  • Maintenance operations;
  • Maintenance of safety-critical systems;
  • Emergency response / spill control;
  • Plant/process change;

Determine the need for improving the existing procedures

You can follow the above process to review the needs for improving your existing procedures and identify the weaknesses, additional ways include:

  • Talking to employees who use or are involved in supervising/monitoring, auditing and overseeing the procedures;
  • Identifying informal procedures and other job aids e.g. the personal ‘black books’ of key information often carried by staff, this is an indicator that the work procedure is not used or not fit-for-purpose;
  • Reviewing an existing procedure with the user/supervisor at the place of work, ask the employee to explain how to do a task
  • Carrying out an employee perception survey to collect feedback

Consult the uses – Questions to ask procedure users

  • Do they always use the procedures? – Why not?
  • Are procedures up-to-date?
  • Were they involved in developing them?
  • Do they reflect how tasks are actually carried out?
  • Are they of the right level of detail?
  • Do they include safety-critical tasks?
  • Are they easy to use?
  • Compare and benchmark good practices in similar industry/process
  • Optimise the use of international standards to improve the effectiveness of your procedures e.g. ISO 45001 and Energy Institutes’ High-Level Framework for process safety management

Good practices in procedure design and improvement

  • Design in safety and design-out risks and violations through designing the process, environment, equipment and task, e.g. ergonomic design, programmable logic controllers and error detection.
  • Risk assessment should establish if procedures are an appropriate control measure.

According to the Hierarchy of controls, the control methods at the top of the graphic e.g. Elimination and substitution are more effective than those lower down. Procedures are used to control the residual risks if good design and engineering controls are applied.

Working safely with the hierarchy of controls

  • Risk assessments should identify possible human failure and consequences in safety-critical tasks, and implement the control measures necessary to prevent it.
  • Involving the workforce in developing procedures to increase their ownership and compliance with procedures. Encourage users in reviewing existing procedures to identify issues and suggest improvements. This also ensures that procedures are relevant and practical.
  • Make it simple and concise, easy to follow and beneficial for the user.
  • Use a format, style and level of detail appropriate to the user, task and risk. For example, use the visual management and What a Good Job Looks Like (WAGJLL)
  • Using job aids to support the successful performance of a task, for example, checklists may be used for hazardous energy isolation. Flow charts reduce the amount of decision-making and decrease the need to memorise key points, e.g. in emergencies.
  • Explaining the risks and consequences of failure to follow procedures/rules and the rationale behind them.
  • Establish a document management process to keep procedures relevant and up-to-date.
  • Training and communication – a formal process in place to ensure that staff are trained in new/updated procedures; An effective two-way communication process in place to receive feedback from employees.
  • Monitoring to ensure employees’ compliance with procedures. Effective supervision and the Behaviour Based Safety Observation Programme can be used to improve compliance with procedures and provide feedback to employees.
  • Explore the root cause of violations to procedures and address them.
  • Ensure that relevant procedural controls are reviewed and updated as needed following an incident, Near Miss, inspections and audit.
  • Foster a positive health and safety culture so that health and safety procedure is followed and is part of getting the job done.

Ultimately procedures depend upon employees following them. In this user-centred approach in developing procedures, including involving the workforce in designing and reviewing procedures, providing needed support, supervision and monitoring, and creating a positive culture to support and promote compliance to procedures are all important. We hope this step by step guide can be of help to you.


Writing procedures Guidelines for writing effective operating and maintenance procedures American Institute of Chemical Engineers 1996 ISBN 0 8169 0658 0


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