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Health & Safety Program Cost vs. Profitability Part Two: What does it actually cost to write and maintain a health and safety program?

Home » Health & Safety Program Cost vs. Profitability Part Two: What does it actually cost to write and maintain a health and safety program?

This is a continuation of our Health & Safety Program Cost vs. Profitability series.

Every business should be able to operate without threat to its workers or the environment, and without risking profitability.

What does it actually cost to write and maintain a health and safety program?

The process of creating a single health and safety policy is summarized in The Occupational Health and Safety Tool Kit for Small Business, by WorkSafe Alberta, as the following:

  1. Draft your company health and safety policy and have it signed by the owner or CEO of the company.
  2. Communicate the policy in prominent places at the work site such as health and safety meetings and also post it for reference (i.e. bulletin boards, lunch rooms).
  3. Include the health and safety policy as a part of new worker orientation.
  4. Include the health and safety policy in the health and safety manual.
  5. Ensure everyone commits to health and safety. Build it into performance reviews at all levels.
  6. Senior management should tour the work site at least annually to communicate and reinforce health and safety practices and behaviors.
  7. Develop a process for addressing health and safety for contractors and visitors at your site.

Although it only gets one line, the first step can take weeks to accomplish. Here are some facts about writing health and safety documents.

  • It takes a minimum of 8 hours to research and draft a one-page policy statement that addresses corporate and regulatory requirements that can withstand legal scrutiny and adequately communicate its message to anyone who reads it. If the document is a work practice or procedure, you can count on at least 8 hours per page as an average because of the research involved.
  • The next step is review by the key decision makers as well as the intended audience. The time it takes depends on the availability of the reviewers, who are typically very busy with their own jobs. It’s common for policy documents to flounder at this stage because they fall to the bottom of the inbox or get tied up in disagreements between reviewers. It is not unusual for reviews to run several weeks per draft document.
  • Once comments are collected, preparing the next draft usually takes half the time of the first. If the document has changed significantly from the first draft, it may be necessary to produce several more drafts before reviewers are all satisfied with the content. So that can add several more weeks to the process.
  • Final review, approval, and sign-off are similar to the initial review and often fall victim to reviewers’ availability. And there are always the late comments from reviewers who wait until the very last draft to give it their full attention.

Overall, it’s usual for a single policy, practice or procedure to take an average of 16 hours per page from initial research and drafting through two reviews and a final document ready for approval. Even if the writer starts with an existing document they brought with them from a previous employer (which is a very common practice), he or she has to verify the regulatory end and customize it to fit the company. Starting with an existing document might shave a few hours off the process, but not much more.

So if you factor this out to a program that contains 50 to 100 policies, practices and procedures that average 2 pages each, the time commitment for just the writer is going to run between 1600 – 3200 hours. That means the writer will need between 9 and 18 months just for the writing process.

If your health and safety professional is carrying this responsibility, they’ll either be writing health and safety documents at the expense of field visits, or visiting the field without effective health and safety documents in hand.

Well researched and written health and safety documents encourage effective performance in operations, whereas shortcuts in health and safety documents will translate to potentially dangerous shortcuts in the field.

Some companies hire technical writers to work with their health and safety professionals. At a reasonable wage of $40/hour (based on 2013 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey for Technical Writers), your program will cost $64,000 to $128,000 to write, but then you have to add the time the writer spends managing the review and approvals process. You’ll have well-written documents, but will you have any money left for implementation and maintenance?

Maintenance should be done monthly and include review of regulatory changes, updates to industry best practices and feedback from the field through the implementation process. The content should be updated as needed to reflect change and then redistributed to the field as quickly as possible. For a program of 50 to 100 policies, practices and procedures, that process should be allotted at least one week out of every month. Collecting feedback from the field will come through implementation, but review of regulatory and industry changes has to be done at a computer, either costing the company more money in technical writing hours or in lost value in field visits that wait for the health and safety professional to be free. Or, as often happens, health and safety documents just don’t get updated, meaning all the value created in their development quickly erodes as they fall out of date.

What’s the alternative? Stop writing and let go of the notion that only health and safety documents authored in-house will work for your company. Instead, access a respected, proven service that provides policies, practices and procedures that have been researched and written to address regulatory requirements and industry best practices, and that are readily customizable to meet your specific corporate and operational needs. Ideally, those policies, practices and procedures should have a history of audits and third-party reviews to ensure they meet due diligence requirements. And they should be well written so that your end users can follow them.

Alliance Borealis Canada Corp. is just such a service. For a few hundred dollars per month, you can obtain all the health and safety documents you need, and know they are being maintained. You can also customize them as needed and add extra documents that you’ve already developed. The best part is they are contained in our online LibraSystem and ScorpioSystem, making them instantly available throughout your company so that you can begin implementation immediately and ensure the dollars you spend on your health and safety program go directly to generating value for your company.

Our services and pricing are structured to ensure value during any economic reality. So talk to us about how you and your health and safety professional can get the best value out of your health and safety program.


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