Everyone likes things in writing. It’s a tangible guarantee that work will be done or rules will be followed. This is particularly true when it comes to developing and utilizing a consistent company safety program.

Putting together a written safety program is a critical first step towards documenting company policies and procedures for accident-free construction, yet many contractors do not have one. It is much more than just a list of rigid work rules. Written safety programs are important because they delineate responsibilities and expectations for everyone. They also provide guidance for field supervisors so they can handle unexpected conditions.

More importantly, a written safety program demonstrates a firm’s commitment to ensuring employee welfare and building a better bottom line. Each year, accidents cost contractors about $1 billion in workers’ compensation losses. They also disrupt schedules and can affect project quality and budget. Having a written safety program can help reduce those losses.

When looking at a prospective customer, most insurance underwriters will ask for the firm’s written safety program. In particular, they are looking for:

  • A preface page signed by top management that introduces the program. This shows executive support for the program and its importance to the contractor. Another indicator of support is the resources dedicated to training and equipment.
  • Program Scope. Safety is more than stopping employee injuries. The program needs to cover risk exposure to neighbors and the general public, damage and theft to equipment, fire, loss or damage to materials before they are installed and construction quality.
  • Assignment of safety responsibility to all management positions. Accountability is more than a list of expectations. It needs to be factored into supervisors’ total job performance.
  • Work rules and procedures. These give job supervisors the tools they need to manage safety and provide on-going training to craft workers.
  • Appropriate content for the type of work the company performs. Generic programs are available, but they have limited impact until they are they refined to reflect a company’s culture.
  • An expectation of periodic inspections, the mechanism used to identify physical hazards so they can be corrected.
  • Enforcement. Foremen must immediately correct unsafe behavior and deviation from work rules. Nothing undercuts a safety program more than a foreman observing an unsafe act and then walking away without taking action.
  • Evidence of revision. The safety program has to be flexible. Revisions and updates are needed to improve program effectiveness and they reflect changes in construction means and methods. A program that is written once and never revisited is a program that sits on a shelf and is not used or enforced.
Unfortunately, many top executives look at safety as an added cost of doing business. While the direct costs of safety equipment and training are easily visible, the indirect costs of accidents are not. These costs include the time needed to rescue and attend to an injured employee, productivity lost while getting a replacement worker on site and up to speed and the time spent filling out accident paperwork. The indirect costs can run four to six times the direct costs covered by insurance. That comes from your bottom line.

A well-written and well-managed safety program not only results in a good workers’ compensation insurance experience modification rate but also is a great marketing tool when soliciting new work. A written safety program shows a coordinated effort to plan for safety, anticipating problems that not only may cause injuries but also affect schedule and quality.

Safety pays other dividends when applied in a thoughtful, methodical way. Reducing accidents not only keeps workers safe, but also improves productivity, morale and workmanship. It all starts with a well-written safety program.

Theodore A. Christensen is director of contracting services, Liberty Mutual Loss Prevention, Hopkinton, Mass.
He can be reached at