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8 Guiding Principles to Develop a Safety Program

While training for the New York City marathon—my first—I realized that there are many similarities to developing and maintaining a safety program.  I admit to being overwhelmed at times while tackling the unknown. Can I do it?  Will I make my long runs?  Where will I find the time?  Will other areas suffer?  Do I have what it takes?  Should I panic if my training plan doesn’t look like someone else’s?  Do I have the resources and the right advice?  Will I do enough to be successful?  Through years of being a loss control consultant, I know that these are the same questions my customers have faced as well when embarking on their own safety efforts.

The following parallel may make the often daunting task of developing a safety plans more manageable:

1.  Define your project and  goal

Know what you are trying to achieve.  It gives the project shape and makes it more manageable.  Are you developing a fleet safety program?  Is there a specific injury or department you are targeting?  Is your plan more compliance based?  In running, I first  define the distance and type of the race, and what my goals are.  It could be just to finish, beat a specific time, or to conquer a legendary hill.  And this changes over time, from year to year, and race to race.  Establishing your goal and project parameters helps provide clarity to what you want to achieve.

2. Find educational resources

You may look to OSHA, DOT, the Federal Highway Administration, Your State Department of Labor, your insurance company or agent, or an industry group for information to help you feel more educated and confident in your task.  And, when education or legalese gets overwhelming, keep the intent in mind.   To prepare for my marathon, I have tapped into the web, books, magazines and experienced runners.  I have also learned to put more stock in some resources than others.  I will never be an elite athlete, and some product manufacturers have ulterior motives.  Remember, a small to mid-sized company is not likely to have the program and resources of a multinational organization, and you do not likely need all of the products and resources which will be marketed to you.  You may want to try a few, but ultimately, you need decide what works.

3. Locate a template

To develop a safety program, start with a sample or a template  and  customize it in a way that works for your company and your specific goals…then implement it.    I have seen situations over the years where a template program is sitting in a binder covered in dust with [insert company name] throughout…and the company calls it “their safety program”.  To run a race, a runner generally investigates various training plans which they then have to adjust to their own needs.  I was coming off of an injury at the time I started my formal training, so I had to adjust some of my running expectations and insert some vigorous swimming into the mix.  I also had to DO it.

4.  Gather Support

A person tasked with developing and managing a safety program cannot be successful without management commitment, support, and the authority to enact the program.  This may include scheduling training and orientation, purchasing necessary safety equipment, and assuring accountability.  Embarking on marathon training is the same…without the support of my family and friends, this would not be possible.  These people accept the importance of the training even if they don’t all understand why it is being done.

5.   Break it into components, and Chunk it Up

Running components include easy runs, tempo work, speed work, long runs and stretching.  I personally can’t stand speed work, and get bored stretching, but know I must.  Within safety, one must consider regulations, specific programs such as Hazard Communication and Lock-out/Tag-out, documentation, training of others, and enforcement.  Some are more pleasant than others, but all are important.  When there is a particularly large task, such as a 16 mile run, I find it easier to mentally break it down into four 4-mile runs.  You can do the same with a safety program.  It doesn’t all have to be done at once.

6.   Adjust

Developing and implementing a safety program is a fluid process…it will ebb, flow, and change course.  Regulations can change, you may realize one path is not right for your employee base, or a more pressing safety need may arise.  The best advice is to regroup and have the confidence to change your plan.  Over the many months of marathon training, an injury can occur, kids get sick, work gets demanding, or you may realize a specific component just doesn’t work for you.  You have to back up and see what you’ve learned and use that information to make changes.  I have learned many lessons, some of them a bit painful!  Let’s just say an anti chafe product is on my must have list for any run over ten miles.

7.   Be realistic and have confidence

We all have visions of a spectacular end product.  However, with safety or with running, there really isn’t an end product.  It is a continual effort and becomes part of a company’s culture.  Although a company would love to have no lost time accidents for a year, is it realistic for yours?  Or, is it more achievable to try for a twenty percent reduction…and maybe that year with no lost time is down the road?  I have no delusional thoughts about running side by side with Deena Kastor, but for my first Marathon, I’d like to finish in fairly good spirits and enjoy (most of) the run.  I’ll see how this race goes, and see what effect it has on my future goals.

8.    Keep it Going

Hopefully, once a safety program is developed and introduced, it will serve as the foundation for safety culture and activity for a long time to come.  As the company grows and changes, or regulations are altered, you have something to build upon.  And, through experience and a little trial and error, hopefully safety becomes less daunting and an integral part of your company.

If you are in the position of knowing you have to raise the bar on safety but see it as an enormous task, I challenge you to learn what you can, tap into resources, develop a starting point, and move forward.  The journey may not always be pleasant or convenient, but is always worthwhile.

Please feel free to contact your Acadia loss control rep or your independent insurance agent for safety assistance…not necessarily running advice.  We also have a many loss control resources available for your consumption in our Loss Control Toolboxes.

Author’s note:  The 2012 New York City Marathon was cancelled amidst much controversy 36 hours before it was set to begin.  I personally feel that it was the right thing to do, and wish it had been done sooner.   I send thoughts and prayers to those affected by Sandy and hope for them to get back on their feet.  A person can always train again, and the process itself was rewarding, but right now is the time to focus on recovery.  Many runners who had already made the trip to the city  were able to help out with distribution of supplies and cleaning up of neighborhoods, and that must feel better than any medal ever could.


Acadia is pleased to share this material for the benefit of its customers.  Please note, however, that nothing herein should be construed as either legal advice or the provision of professional consulting services.  This material is for informational purposes only, and while reasonable care has been utilized in compiling this information, no warranty or representation is made as to accuracy or completeness.  Recipients of this material must utilize their own individual professional judgment in implementing sound risk management practices and procedures.

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