How To Create a Safety Manual (For Small Businesses)

So you're a business owner or you have been tasked with creating the company's occupational safety and health manual, program, plan, policy, etc. The problem is, you're not a safety expert and the world of "OSHA" safety is complex. Well, this article will help you develop a safety manual for OSHA compliance quickly and efficiently. Let's begin, shall we?

Gathering Your Specific Requirements

First of all, it's important for you to know that the safety and health industry is not as "standardized" as you may think and you may have more than one set of requirements to meet. To make matters worse, people in the safety industry use a wide range of terms interchangeably; further confusing your effort to create a safety manual for your business. But we're about to simplify the entire process and make this task as quick and painless as possible.

The following list contains entities that you may or may not need to comply with. It is your duty to determine which of these entities you need to satisfy:

1. Federal OSHA (The Occupational Safety and Health Administration)

2. Your State's Equivalent of OSHA (Especially California - CalOSHA)

3. Your Workers' Compensation Insurance Company

4. Your Client or Customer

5. A General Contractor

6. A Site Owner or Operator You Work For

7. A Third Party Verification Entity (i.e. ISNetworld®, Avetta, PEC, BROWZ, etc.)

8. Department of Defense (DOD) EM-385

9. Any Other Government Authority on Safety and Health For Your Jurisdiction

Once you have determined each entity that you need to satisfy, it's just a matter of gathering the requirements of each entity. This process is not straightforward, but with a few calls or emails, you should be able to get everything you need. For federal and state OSHA or labor department requirements, there will be written " "safety standards” published on their website. This is where you will find "their" requirements. For all other entities in the list, you must contact them via email or telephone to retrieve their safety requirements for your business or the project you are bidding on.

Forming The Safety Manual Structure

Now that you have all of the written requirements from each entity you need to satisfy, it's time to visually scan each set of requirements looking for major "headings" or "topics" which they are asking you to have. One way to do this is to simply make a written list of these major headings on a post-it note or sheet of paper as you see them in the requirements. This way you can simply cross out each element on the list after you have added it to your safety manual document. These headings (also known as safety manual "elements") will form the main structure of your safety manual and will form the table of contents as well. Some commonly required safety manual "elements" include:

1. Aerial Lifts

2. Bloodborne Pathogens

3. Compressed Air

4. Cold Stress

5. Driving Safety

6. Electrical Safety

7. Emergency Action Plan (EAP)

8. Fall Protection

9. Fire Protection

10. Injury and Illness Reporting

11. Ladder Safety

12. Machine Guarding

13. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

14. Scaffold Safety

15. Silica Dust

16. Walking and Working Surfaces

The structure of your safety manual should also include a "policy statement" at the beginning of the manual, which communicates your businesses "policy" on safety for your business.

Writing The Safety Manual Content

The final and most difficult part of writing a safety manual is the technical writing of actual procedures under your main safety headings or "elements". It is "almost" completely unreasonable to attempt to write technical subject matter that will pass review by entities in the above list. Almost nobody actually does this. Rather, most businesses use safety manual "templates" or safety manual "samples" to draw insights from and base each element upon. Or some will use the Federal or State OSHA standards to draw insights and simply paraphrase requirements and procedures from these sources. Something OSHIFY tries to do with all safety manual and safety program content has subject matter that is clear, concise and actionable; while also maintaining compliance with whatever standards or requirements we're meeting. It is difficult to strike this balance but its' something we do better than most vendors.

Option 1: If You Are A Technical Writer and Have Plenty of Time

If you want to take a gander at writing this technical subject matter from scratch, the best approach would be to use Federal OSHA (or your state's equivalent) as the main source for inspiration. The subject matter in the standards can be very technical so you must attempt to strike a balance by "paraphrasing" the actual standards without rendering the content "non-compliant". This will take a lot of guesswork and will require many submissions to the various entities you need to satisfy, which involves many edits and revisions of the safety manual document.

The first thing you will want to do is create the layout of your document using Microsoft Word, Google Docs or another word processor. First, you should create the cover page and ensure that you include your company's name, the document title (i.e. Safety Manual, Health & Safety Manual, EHS Manual, etc.) and the effective date of the manual. Next, you should create a simple "policy statement" that states the intent of the company regarding safety and health for employees and also designate a point of contact for the safety manual and safety activities for your company toward the bottom of this page. After this, you will simply enter one heading for each topic or element you want to include in the manual, ensuring you separate each heading with page breaks.

Now it's time to write in the actual content under your newly formed headings. As a general rule, it is a good idea to browse through each subpart of the standard or topic you're writing on (from the OSHA standards) and highlight the top ten procedures or sections that matter most to your company (because you can't include everything from the standards) based on the hazards and risks your employees are exposed to. Then paraphrase each of these "top ten" sections you have chosen. This becomes the actual sections or "sub-headings" under each main heading listed in your table of contents.

Once you have created your cover page, headings, subheadings, and content, it's time to finalize the document by spell checking. On average, safety manuals tend to have a page count from 50 to 300 pages, depending upon the number of headings you have in the manual. On average, headings range anywhere from 7 to 30, depending on how detailed you want to be - or need to be. High hazard companies such as construction, manufacturing, mining, industrial work, oil and gas, power energy, utility work, etc. tend to have safety manuals on the high end of these figures with large page counts and many headings, while low hazard companies such as office settings, low voltage contractors, etc. usually have fewer headings and pages. Don't worry too much about what others are doing though. The main idea is to have the elements, procedures, and rules that are most applicable to your operations.

Option 2: If You Want To Do It The Faster and Easier Way

If you are like 97% of people in America, you don't have time to write a manual. It would take weeks or even months as you can see in the paragraph above. If you agree, downloading a "ready-made" safety manual "template" and adding your company name is a great option. You might also consider buying a safety manual development "service" from a reputable company like OSHIFY that allows a safety professional to research your company's needs "and" develop the manual according to your company's specific requirements.

At the time of this article, OSHIFY has three options for those wanting to develop a safety manual. They are as follows:

1. Sign up for an OSHIFY plan and have unlimited access to the latest versions of our safety manual templates (updated regularly)

2. Download a safety manual template from our shop (doesn't allow you to have access to updates like option 1 above)

3. Order our custom safety manual development service (comes with free updates for 1 year - you pay for updates by the hour after year one)

Next Steps: What Now?

If you'd like to download a safety manual template from the OSHIFY safety library, sign up for a free trial and click on the "library" tab on the left side of the main menu inside the app. It's the best option for most situations because you have access to all the updates - as soon as they happen. Or you can contact us to order a safety manual development service using the link above. The more effort or money you invest in your company's safety manual, the more protected your business and employees will be.

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