Managing safety and health is an integral part of managing a business

Businesses need to do a risk assessment to find out about the hazards and risks in their workplace(s) and put measures in place to effectively control them to ensure these hazards and risks cannot cause harm to workers.

The ILO has produced guidelines on the development of occupational safety and health management systems

These guidelines were designed as a practical tool for assisting organizations (a company, operation, firm, undertaking, establishment, enterprise, institution or association, or part of it, whether incorporated or not, public or private, that has its own functions and administration) and competent institutions as a means of achieving continual improvement in occupational safety and health (OSH) performance. The guidelines have been developed according to internationally agreed principles defined by the ILO’s tripartite constituents. The practical recommendations of these guidelines are intended for use by all those who have responsibility for OSH management.

Occupational safety and health, including compliance with the OSH requirements pursuant to national laws and regulations, is the responsibility and duty of the employer. The employer should show strong leadership and commitment to OSH activities in the organization, and make appropriate arrangements for the establishment of an OSH management system. The system should contain the main elements of policy, organizing, planning and implementation, evaluation and action for improvement.

Case study: An example of an OSH management system.

This section provides information on what employers need to consider when managing health and safety and assessing the risks in their workplace. It shows how they can follow the continual improvement approach as shown above.



Planning and implementation


Action for Improvement

Controlling the risks

Accidents and Investigations

Multi-employer workspaces

Deciding who can help employers with their duties

Consulting workers

Providing training and information

Providing supervision

First aid

Safety signs


Occupational safety and health policy

The employer, in consultation with workers and their representatives, should set out in writing an OSH policy to which they are committed and which is communicated to all workers.

Worker participation

Worker participation is an essential element of the OSH management system in the organization.

The employer should ensure that workers and their safety and health representatives are consulted, informed, and trained on all aspects of OSH, including emergency arrangements, associated with their work.

The employer should make arrangements for workers and their safety and health representatives to have the time and resources to participate actively in the processes of organizing, planning and implementation, evaluation and action for improvement of the OSH management system.

The employer should ensure, as appropriate, the establishment and efficient functioning of a safety and health committee and the recognition of workers’ safety and health representatives, in accordance with national laws and practice.


Responsibility and accountability

The employer should have overall responsibility for the protection of workers’ safety and health, and provide leadership for OSH activities in the organization.

The employer and senior management should allocate responsibility, accountability and authority for the development, implementation and performance of the OSH management system and the achievement of the relevant OSH objectives.

Competence and training

The necessary OSH competence (includes education, work experience and training, or a combination of these) requirements should be defined by the employer, and arrangements established and maintained to ensure that all persons, in particular new and young workers have been trained and are competent to carry out the safety and health aspects of their duties and responsibilities.

The employer should have, or should have access to, sufficient OSH competence to identify and eliminate or control work-related hazards and risks, and to implement the OSH management system.

Occupational safety and health management system documentation

According to the size and nature of activity of the organization, the OSH management system documentation should be established and provided to all members of the organization so that management and workers fully comprehend their respective duties and responsibilities and how OSH is managed in the organization.


Arrangements and procedures should be established and maintained for:

receiving, documenting and responding appropriately to internal and external communications related to OSH;

ensuring the internal communication of OSH information between relevant levels and functions of the organization; and

ensuring that the concerns, ideas and inputs of workers and their representatives on OSH matters are received, considered and responded to.

 Planning and Implementation

Initial review

The organization’s existing OSH management system and relevant arrangements should be evaluated by an initial review, as appropriate. In the case where no OSH management system exists, or if the organization is newly established, the initial review should serve as a basis for establishing an OSH management system.

System planning, development and implementation

The purpose of planning should be to create an OSH management system that supports:

as the minimum, compliance with national laws and regulations;

the elements of the organization’s OSH management system; and continual improvement in OSH performance.

Occupational safety and health objectives

Consistent with the OSH policy and based on the initial or subsequent reviews, measurable OSH objectives should be established, which are:

specific to the organization, and appropriate to and according to its size and nature of activity;

consistent with the relevant and applicable national laws and regulations, and the technical and business obligations of the organization with regard to OSH;

focused towards continually improving workers’ OSH protection to achieve the best OSH performance;

realistic and achievable;

documented, and communicated to all relevant functions and levels of the organization; and

periodically evaluated and if necessary updated.

Hazard prevention

Prevention and control measures

Hazards and risks to workers’ safety and health should be identified and assessed on an ongoing basis. Preventive and protective measures should be implemented in the following order of priority:

eliminate the hazard/risk;

control the hazard/risk at source, through the use of engineering controls or organizational measures;

minimize the hazard/risk by the design of safe work systems, which include administrative control measures; and

where residual hazards/risks cannot be controlled by collective measures, the employer should provide for appropriate personal protective equipment, including clothing, at no cost, and should implement measures to ensure its use and maintenance.

Management of change

The impact on OSH of internal changes (such as those in staffing or due to new processes, working procedures, organizational structures or acquisitions) and of external changes (for example, as a result of amendments of national laws and regulations, organizational mergers, and developments in OSH knowledge and technology) should be evaluated and appropriate preventive steps taken prior to the introduction of changes.

Emergency prevention, preparedness and response

Emergency prevention, preparedness and response arrangements should be established and maintained. These arrangements should identify the potential for accidents and emergency situations and address the prevention of OSH risks associated with them. Quick and effective action may help to ease the situation and reduce the consequences. However, in emergencies people are more likely to respond reliably if they:

are well trained and competent;

take part in regular and realistic practice;

have clearly agreed, recorded and rehearsed plans, actions and responsibilities.

The arrangements should be made according to the size and nature of activity of the organization.


Procedures should be established and maintained to ensure that:

compliance with safety and health requirements for the organization is identified, evaluated and incorporated into purchasing and leasing specifications;

national laws and regulations and the organization’s own OSH requirements are identified prior to the procurement of goods and services; and arrangements are made to achieve conformance to the requirements prior to their use.


Arrangements should be established and maintained for ensuring that the organization’s safety and health requirements, or at least the equivalent, are applied to contractors and their workers.


Performance monitoring and measurement

Procedures to monitor, measure and record OSH performance on a regular basis should be developed, established and periodically reviewed. This activity is vital and many subject areas can be studied to establish what is working well and what could be improved. Responsibility, accountability and authority for monitoring at different levels in the management structure should be allocated.

Investigation of work-related injuries, ill health, diseases and incidents, and their impact on safety and health performance

The investigation of the origin and underlying causes of work-related injuries, ill health, diseases and incidents should identify any failures in the OSH management system and should be documented.

Such investigations should be carried out by competent persons, with the appropriate participation of workers and their representatives.

The results of such investigations should be communicated to the safety and health committee, where it exists, and the committee should make appropriate recommendations.


Arrangements to conduct periodic audits are to be established in order to determine whether the OSH management system and its elements are in place, adequate, and effective in protecting the safety and health of workers and preventing incidents.

An audit policy and programme should be developed, which includes a designation of auditor competency, the audit scope, the frequency of audits, audit methodology and reporting.

The audit includes an evaluation of the organization’s OSH management system elements or a subset of these, as appropriate.

 Action for Improvement

Preventive and corrective action

Arrangements should be established and maintained for preventive and corrective action resulting from OSH management system performance monitoring and measurement, OSH management system audits and management reviews. These arrangements should include:

identifying and analysing the root causes of any non-conformities with relevant OSH regulations and/or OSH management systems arrangements; and

initiating, planning, implementing, checking the effectiveness of and documenting corrective and preventive action, including changes to the OSH management system itself.

When the evaluation of the OSH management system or other sources show that preventive and protective measures for hazards and risks are inadequate or likely to become inadequate, the measures should be addressed according to the recognized hierarchy of prevention and control measures, and completed and documented, as appropriate and in a timely manner.

Continual improvement

Arrangements should be established and maintained for the continual improvement of the relevant elements of the OSH management system and the system as a whole.

Further information see managing health and safety 

To help you structure a policy, there is an example and an interactive template on the HSE website

Controlling the Risks

Risk assessments

As part of managing the safety and health of the organization, the employer must identify the hazards and control the risks in their workplace. To do this they need to think about what might cause harm to workers and others and decide whether they are doing enough to prevent that.

This process is known as risk assessment.

Risk assessment is about identifying and taking sensible and proportionate measures to control the risks in the workplace, not about creating huge amounts of paperwork.

Organizations are probably already taking steps to protect their workers, but the risk assessment will help them decide whether they should be doing more.

Employers should think about how accidents and ill health could happen and concentrate on real risks – those that are most likely and which will cause the most harm.

For some risks, national legislation may require particular control measures. The organization’s assessment will help identify whether it needs to look at certain risks and these particular control measures in more detail.

Mandated control measures should be assessed as part of the overall risk assessment.

Identify the hazards

One of the most important aspects of the risk assessment is accurately identifying the potential hazards in the workplace. An unidentified hazard cannot be controlled.

Employers in conjunction with their workers can start by walking around the workplace and thinking about any hazards. In other words, what is it about the activities, processes or substances used that could injure workers or harm their health?

Who might be harmed?

Then think how workers (or others who may be present such as contractors or visitors) might be harmed. Asking the workers what they think the hazards are is essential, as they may notice things that are not obvious and may have some good ideas on how to control the risks.

For each hazard employers need to be clear about who might be harmed – it will help them identify the best way of controlling the risk. That doesn’t mean listing everyone by name, but rather identifying groups of workers/people (e.g. ‘people working in the storeroom’ or ‘passers-by’).

Evaluate the risks

Having identified the hazards, organizations then have to decide how likely it is that harm will occur, i.e. the level of risk and what to do about it.

Risk is a part of everyday life and organizations are not expected to eliminate all risks. What they must do is make sure they know about the main risks and the things they need to do to manage them responsibly. Generally, they need to do everything ‘reasonably practicable’ to protect people from harm.

Record the findings

It is good practice if organizations make a record of their significant findings – the hazards, how people might be harmed by them and what is in place to control the risks. Any record produced should be clear, practical and focused on control measures.

The paperwork produced as part of the risk assessment is intended to assist organizations to communicate and manage the risks in their business. For most this does not need to be a complex exercise – just note the main points down about the significant risks and what was concluded.

Regularly review the risk assessment

Few workplaces stay the same. Sooner or later, organizations will bring in new equipment, substances and procedures that could lead to new hazards. So it makes sense to review what is being done an ongoing basis, the risk assessment ought to be reviewed and organizations should ask themselves:

Have there been any significant changes?

Are there improvements still needed to be made?

Have workers spotted a problem?

Have we learnt anything from accidents or near misses?

Organizations must make sure the risk assessment stays up to date.

Training package on workplace risk assessment and management for small and medium-sized enterprises  

A 5 step guide for employers, workers and their representatives on conducting workplace risk assessments 

Accidents and Investigations

Employers should monitor the effectiveness of the measures they put in place to control the risks in their workplace. As part of the monitoring, they should investigate incidents to ensure that corrective action is taken, learning is shared and any necessary improvements are put in place.

Investigations will help them to:

identify why their existing control measures failed and what improvements or additional measures are needed; plan to prevent the incident from happening again; point to areas where the risk assessment needs reviewing; improve risk control in the workplace in the future.

Reporting incidents (Protocol of 2002 to the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 ) should not stop employers from carrying out their own investigation to ensure risks in their workplace are controlled efficiently. An investigation is not an end in itself, but the first step in preventing future adverse events that includes:

occupational accidents;

occupational diseases;

dangerous occurrences;

commuting accidents.

Investigation of occupational accidents and diseases – A practical guide for labour inspectors. The guide provides inspectors with information on the importance of, and a suggested methodology for, conducting effective investigations and compiling reports.

 Multi-employer workplaces

Where employers share workplaces (whether on a temporary or permanent basis), they need to co-operate with each other to comply with their respective health and safety obligations. Many national OSH systems have specific requirements to ensure worker safety on multi-employer worksites.

Each employer needs to take all reasonable steps to co-ordinate the measures they adopt to fulfil those obligations. They also need to tell the other employers about any risks their work activities could present to their employees, both on- and off-site.

These requirements apply to self-employed people where they share a workplace with other employers or where they share a workplace with other self-employed people.

 Deciding who can help employers with their duties

Employers should appoint someone competent to help them meet their safety and health duties. A competent person is someone with the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to manage safety and health. In many cases, employers will know the risks in their own business best. This will mean that they are the competent person and can carry out the risk assessments themselves.

 Consulting Workers

Workplaces where workers are involved in taking decisions about safety and health are safer and healthier. It is therefore vital that employers consult workers and their representatives (if present) on all matters that affect occupational safety and health.

Collaboration with workers helps employers to manage safety and health in a practical way by:

helping them spot workplace risks;

making sure safety and health controls are practical;

increasing the level of commitment to working in a safe and healthy way;

providing them with feedback on the effectiveness of their safety and health arrangements and control measures.

Employers must consult all their workers, in good time, on safety and health matters. In workplaces where a trade union is recognized, this will be through union safety and health representatives. In non-unionized workplaces, they can consult either directly or through other elected representatives.

Representatives’ main role is to talk to their employer about issues affecting the safety and health of workers they represent in the workplace. Employers should ensure that any representatives receive paid time off during normal working hours so they can carry out their duties. They should also receive suitable training and access to any facilities needed to help them in their role.

Consultation involves employers not only giving information to workers but also listening to them and taking account of what they say before making decisions on safety and health. Employers have to give workers or their representative’s information to allow full and effective participation in consultation.

This should include:

risks arising from their work;

proposals to manage and/or control these risks;

what to do if workers are exposed to a risk;

the best ways of providing information and training.

 Providing Training and Information

All workers need to know how to work safely and without risks to health. Employers must provide clear instructions, information and adequate training for their workers. Workers also have responsibilities with regards to safety and health including cooperating with their employers and following the instructions they have received.

Employers must not forget contractors and self-employed people who may be working for them and make sure everyone has information on:

hazards and risks they may face;

measures in place to deal with those hazards and risks;

how to follow any emergency procedures.

Some workers may have particular training needs, for example:

new recruits need basic induction training in how to work safely, including arrangements for first aid, fire and evacuation;

people changing jobs or taking on extra responsibilities need to know about any new safety and health implications;

young workers are particularly vulnerable to accidents and employers need to pay particular attention to their needs, so their training should be a priority. It is also important that new, inexperienced or young workers are adequately supervised;

worker representatives or safety representatives will require training that reflects their responsibilities;

some people’s skills may need updating by refresher training.

The employer’s risk assessment should identify any further training needs associated with specific risks. If they have identified danger areas in their workplace, they must ensure that their workers receive adequate instruction and training on precautions they must take before entering these areas.

Employers also need to think about any legal requirements for specific job training. If employers introduce new equipment, technology or changes to working practices/systems, their workers will need to know about any new safety and health implications.

Workers also have responsibilities under international labour standards with regards to safety and health namely to:

take care of their own safety and health and that of others;

co-operate with employers to help them comply with their obligations;

follow any instructions or safety and health training employers provide;

tell employers about any work situations that present imminent and serious danger to their life or health;

let you know about any other failings they identify in your safety and health arrangements.

 Providing supervision

Employers must provide an adequate and appropriate level of supervision for their workers;

Supervisors need to know what is expected from them in terms of safety and health. They need to understand the employer’s safety and health policy, where they fit in, and how the employer wants safety and health managed.

Supervisors may need training in the specific hazards of the employer’s processes and how the risks are expected to be controlled.

New, inexperienced or young people, as well as those whose first language is not that of the country, are very likely to need more supervision than others. Employers must ensure workers know how to raise concerns and supervisors are familiar with the possible problems due to unfamiliarity, inexperience and communication difficulties.

Supervisors need to ensure that workers in their charge understand risks associated with the work environment and measures to control them.

Supervisors will need to make sure the control measures to protect against risk are up to date and are being properly used, maintained and monitored.

Employers must also ensure they have arrangements in place to check the work of contractors is being done.

Effective supervision can help employers monitor the effectiveness of the training that people have received, and whether workers have the necessary capacity and competence to do the job.

 First aid

Employers need to assess their first-aid requirements to help them decide what equipment and facilities they need, and how many first-aid personnel they should provide.

The minimum first-aid provision in any workplace is:

a suitably stocked first-aid box;

an appointed person to take charge of first-aid arrangements.

Employers also need to put up notices telling their workers where they can find:

the first-aiders or appointed persons;

the first-aid box.

Their assessment may also indicate that they should provide a first-aid room, particularly where their work involves certain hazards, including some of those found in chemical industries and on large construction sites or if required by national legislation.

The self-employed should have equipment to be able to provide first aid to themselves at work. They should make an assessment of the hazards and risks in their workplace and establish an appropriate level of first-aid provision.

If they carry out low-risk activities (e.g. clerical work) in their own home, they may only need to provide first-aid equipment appropriate to their normal domestic needs. If their work involves driving long distances or they are continuously on the road, their assessment may identify the need to keep a personal first-aid kit in their vehicle.

 Safety signs

Employers must provide safety signs if there is a significant risk that can’t be avoided or controlled in any other way, such as through safe systems of work or engineering controls.

There is no need for employers to provide safety signs if they don’t help reduce the risk or if the risk isn’t significant. This applies to all places and activities where people are employed. The installed safety signs must be relevant there is no benefit to installing safety signs detailing equipment that is not required as this tends to mean that workers ignore all the signs and requirements!

Employers should, where necessary: use road traffic signs in workplaces to regulate road traffic;

maintain the safety signs they provide; explain unfamiliar signs to their workers and tell them what they need to do when they see safety signs.

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