Safety: You’re in Charge….Now What?

You’ve just been hired or promoted as a supervisor at a medium-sized company, a job you know well and are comfortable with. Then the boss says, “By the way, you’ll also be running health and safety.”

Suddenly, you don’t feel so confident. Sure, you get that safety is important and you follow the rules that cover your own job and those of the workers you manage, but beyond that, it’s pretty much a mystery. And health? You don’t even know how little you know, and that’s scary.

If this is you, you’re not alone. In many companies, the person who oversees health and safety is someone who is not a professional HS officer and may have little or no previous training in that role.

Intimidating as this situation may seem, some basic guidelines along with the many excellent resources available through health and safety organizations such as SafetyDriven: Trucking Safety Council of BC, WorkSafeBC, and the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety will get you started in the right direction.

When stepping into an already-established HS program at your company, start by getting to know the system. With luck, you’ll be mentored by the outgoing HS person. You’ll want to read through a copy of the company’s HS policy and plan. You might look at past HS audit findings, incident investigations, and data on incident and injury types.

At the same time, begin educating yourself. Occupational health and safety is a huge topic, but if you tackle it in smaller chunks, it’s easier to absorb. Online resources are ideal for this, as they are usually tightly focused while still providing links to further reading, if you want it.

The CCOHS fact sheet Basic OH&S Program Elements outlines what a safety program is and covers a number of basic topics such as:
• What is a policy statement?
• Program elements
• Responsibilities of safety coordinators

WorkSafeBC’s page Health & safety programs explains what an effective health and safety program looks like and will help you understand what kind of program (“formal” vs “less formal”) your company should have in place.

If you’re employed by a larger company with a formal program, you will be working with a joint HS committee. SafetyDriven provides an extensive list of resources on the role of these committees and how they function, including blogs, guidance, templates, FAQs, and posters. The WorkSafeBC downloadable booklet, How to Implement a Formal Occupational Health and Safety Program, also covers joint HS committees as well as topics such as the elements of a formal HS program.

At a smaller company, you may be the sole worker health and safety representative. Your responsibilities are discussed in Worker Health and Safety Representatives FAQs and in the booklet Worker Health and Safety Representative Fundamentals. WorkSafeBC also offers an online course titled Worker Health and Safety Representative Fundamentals.

All joint committee members and HS representatives must receive mandatory training and are entitled to eight hours of leave per year to attend occupational health and safety training courses. Visit WorkSafeBC’s Joint committee member & worker health and safety representative training to learn more about these educational requirements.

In the course of your new duties in HS, you will need to assess your company’s program to determine if improvements can be made or changes are needed to address new or dynamic situations. While every workplace will have unique requirements, for an overview of program requirements it’s worth referencing a standard checklist such as the Small Business Annual Review of Health and Safety Program.

A key part of your safety program will be proper documentation and recordkeeping. Download WorkSafeBC’s Due Diligence Checklist to help ensure that you are following best practices in this task.

If you’d like to go directly to the source of occupational health and safety regulations for BC, visit the page Searchable OHS Regulation & related materials.

Finally, if the day comes that your new leadership role in health and safety is causing you stress, SafetyDriven has a blog for that, too: Who is Supporting the Safety Leader?

While there’s no doubt that health and safety is a big responsibility, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Knowing what some of the challenges will be—and that there are solutions—can help you and your company prepare to meet them.

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