Developing a health and safety policy

This guidance may help employers understand and apply health and safety policies. The information may also benefit managers, health and safety representatives and employees.

Work health and safety policy

A work health and safety policy sets out an organisation's approach to health and safety. It explains how employers will manage the health, safety and welfare of employees, contractors, visitors and members of the public affected by the organisation's work. The policy should clearly state who does what, when and how.

Preparing a health and safety policy is an important step towards providing and maintaining a work environment which is safe and without risk to health. Developing a successful health and safety policy involves consultation with senior management, any health and safety representatives (HSRs) and employees.

What should a health and safety policy do?

A policy statement should show, in clear and simple terms, the company's health and safety goals and the arrangements to achieve those goals, including the allocation of functions and responsibilities. The organisation’s director or equivalent should sign and date the document and it should include:

  • senior management commitment
  • the incorporation of that commitment into all organisational activities
  • a commitment to set down the functions and duties of all people in the organisation for maintaining workplace health and safety
  • accountability of all levels of management
  • consultation leading to effective action
  • training in health and safety practices and procedures
  • communication of health and safety practices and procedures
  • regular monitoring and reviewing of the policy and its effectiveness

Specific health and safety policies

Health and safety policies about specific issues such as smoking, drugs, alcohol and transmissible diseases should be consistent with an organisation's general health and safety policy. Specific policies and procedures will be more successful where there is an existing general health and safety structure. These policies will vary from one organisation to another because they reflect the particular needs and operational requirements of individual organisations. However, all specific health and safety policies must fulfil the requirements of relevant legislation.

So far as reasonably practicable, management must consult with employees and their HSRs when developing health and safety procedures. The procedures should detail the organisational arrangements for identifying, assessing and controlling hazards or dealing with specific health and safety issues. The procedures should be the basis for management and supervisor responsibilities, employee involvement, goals and action plans and reviews of their effectiveness.

Applying health and safety policies

Employers should develop a plan to ensure a specific health and safety policy is effective. The plan should involve consultation and cooperation between management, employees and any HSRs to turn the policy objectives into effective action. Regularly monitoring and reviewing the plan makes sure it remains in line with changes in legislation and organisational needs.

A copy of the policy document should be on display in a prominent place for employees to view. Many organisations make health and safety policies part of their quality management systems.

Checklist for managing occupational health and safety

                If you have not checked every box you should take action to address the issue.

                Your legal duties

                The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) requires employers to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health, including psychological health, so far as reasonably practicable. This responsibility includes providing and maintaining safe systems of work and an obligation to consult with employees and HSRs on matters that directly affect or are likely to affect their health or safety.

                Employees also have duties under the OHS Act to take reasonable care for their own health and safety, the health and safety of people in the workplace and to co-operate with their employer.

                Find out more about your legal obligations on the WorkSafe website page, The Risk Management Approach to Health and Safety. A link to the page appears in Related information.