Four Pillars of Safety

Four Pillars of Safety

Hi, this is Jill James, Chief Safety Officer with HSI Learning Systems, a health and safety institute company. I am often asked, Jill, how do we start with safety? What is this whole workplace safety thing about? What are the minimum things we need to do just to get started?

And so, I would like to share with you the four pillars of safety. And when we're building out safety house with our four pillars of safety, we need to start with a strong foundation. So what might be in that foundation? Well, I call them administrative things.

And so, what might be an administrative things? These would be some of the very basic core elements that nearly every place of employment in our country needs to have. And so, that might be the OSHA 300 logs and maintaining them, the OSHA poster hung in your workplace, and having all your safety data sheets together for the hazardous substances you have in your work environment.

And so, what's next? How are we building our first pillar. Well, our first pillar is what I call, programs.

Programs are things that are in writing. So they may be safety policies, safety procedures, standard operating procedures or SOPs, or equipment specific instructions, things that have to be in writing. So how do we know they have to be in writing? Well, if we wanted to start with just our base line, the OSHA regulations mandate have to be in writing, have to have in writing, rather. And sometimes those policies are coming from federal OSHA and sometimes they're coming from state OSHA programs as well. So we need to keep that in mind.

So now that we have our first pillar, what is our second pillar called? I call it the training pillar.

So, our employees need training on how we expect them to act safely and to take care of themselves and how to perform the functions of their job in a manner that won't hurt them. And so, when we're looking at those two different pillars, program and training, sometimes that gets a little confusing for employers. So let's try to clarify that a little bit.

There is a different between the two of them. So, a program, policy, procedure, SOP, again, is something that's in writing. And you wouldn't take that policy, that thing in writing, and hand it to an employee and say, please read and acknowledge that you read this and then call it training. That doesn't meet the requirements for training. So, what does that look like in practice? Well, if you think about respirators. You have someone wearing a respirator in your work environment.

The OSHA law mandates that the employer have a written respiratory protection program, something in writing, and that program would include things like how did we assess our work environment to determine what type of respirator that employee needed to wear? How did we choose which respirator and which ones did we choose? What are they good for? How are we going to ensure our employees are medically suited to wear that respirator? How are we going to do fit testing with them? And a lot of other things that are included in the law.

But that doesn't constitute training. So, on the training side, we'd be teaching employees how to put them on, how to take them off, what environments are they suited for when they're wearing that particular respirator for their work environment? How do they clean them? Where do they store them? Those kinds of things about respirators would be included in training. So, just wanted to make it clear that programs and training and two different pillars and you approach them in different manners as employers while you're building your safety house.

So, let move on to the third one. I call it hazard identification.

And this is the pillar that many of you will probably know really well. This is where we're going and we're doing safety audits and we are trying to find that missing guard. We're looking for a guard rail that's not there. We're looking for electrical hazards. Maybe we're even doing industrial hygiene monitoring. Maybe we are inspecting our fire extinguishers or our chains or our slings, that kind of thing would be in hazard identification where we're finding things and we're making corrections to ensure that people aren't being harmed.

And then we have our fourth pillar. The fourth pillar I call behaviors.

If you've ever heard the term behavior-based safety, that might be what resonates with you for this fourth pillar. So, essentially, what this fourth pillar is what are our employees doing when no one is watching? Are they performing the way that we trained them too? Are they following the operating procedures that we have in our work environment? What are employees doing? How are they behaving in the workplace? We also might call it safety culture, we might call it safety climate.

The key element to remember with this pillar is really what are our employees doing when no one else is watching? So, as you look at the structure of our safety house here, with its four pillars and its sound foundation, as a safety manager yourself or as someone that has been tasked with safety as an additional job responsibility, you can take a look at this and ask yourself, how strong is our house? Where does it need to be shored up? What does it look like right now.

And so, you'll start down here at your foundational level to see if you have those basic elements first and then fill in maybe how strong that foundation is to begin with. So, maybe ...

You're coloring in the strength of your foundation and hopefully that's really strong. And then maybe we're looking at the rest of those pillars and thinking, alright, what about that program pillar? Do we have things that are in writing? How strong are they? Or maybe they're in a binder but they're sitting on a shelf and the cellophane is still on it because we bought it from someone but we never made it our own. So, what does that pillar look like? How strong is it?

And give yourself a grade. And then we look at training. How are we doing training now? Are we doing on-boarding training with employees? Are we missing some annual training? Maybe we haven't done an assessment to make sure that we're training on just the minimum things that OSHA requires in addition to other things like equipment-specific training. So what does that look like right now in your work environment?

And give yourself a grade on how strong that pillar is. Or maybe you've been using training through HSI Learning systems and you're feeling really solid about it.

And you're really shoring up the strength of that pillar. And then we look at hazard identification and how we're doing audits. And often times, this is where a lot of safety professionals spend a lot of their time because this is where those arterial bleeds are in safety. And that wasn't intended to be a pun. But when things are going sideways, this is often what gets our attention very quickly for us to react to.

And so, we maybe doing that on a daily basis or we have a lot of these things scheduled where we are finding hazards and we are correcting them. And so, you can maybe look at the strength of that pillar and say, how are we doing here?

And maybe that one for your organization is really strong. And then we look at this behaviors area and we think, how do we measure it even? What do we look for? And maybe you are doing incident tracking. Maybe you're having an idea of what kinds of incidents are happening or near-misses in your work environment, or maybe you're looking at your worker's compensation data, or maybe you've done a safety climate survey to quantify in some way how you would shore up and look at the strength of this particular pillar. And then you can give yourself a grade for it.

So, when we look at the safety house that we've built here, and we've kind of assessed how strong our pillar is, that helps us as safety professionals, people who are tasked with the job to determine, how are we gonna triage how we're going to approach the four pillars of safety in our organization? And so, maybe this helps you know that you, for your organization, need to start over here and determine what's first second and third.

I would caution you, if you're just starting out, not to start here with behaviors because it's pretty hard for employees to know what's expected of them if you haven't done training, if you don't have things in writing, if you haven't taken care of the physical and health hazards in a work environment. So I'd really, if you're just starting out and you're just getting going, I'd really focus on these three pillars and of course the foundation before you start really tackling this.

And so, we've got our safety house built, so what is this? What do we call it?

I call it our workplace safety approach. Many times you'll hear people say, our safety program. You can call it that if you want to. You can call it whatever it is that you want to, I just don't tend to use the term safety program to describe all of these elements, because I think it gets a little confusing and makes us just think about this one pillar when really all of these things are included with a workplace safety approach.

So, what does HSI Learning Systems do? Well, we focus on this pillar training, and that's what we do. That's the core of our business. We do it better than anyone else in the safety training online space.

It's not to say that we don't address any of these other items, we do, but they are assets that we offer in the toolbox of our webpage that anyone can go to at any time. So if you're looking for some safety program templates, we have some for you to take and use as you'd like. If you're looking for ways to teach yourself hazard identification, that's what our supervisor safety tip series is for. If you are looking for a way to measure behavior, you can have access to a safety climate survey as well.

So, I'd like to thank you for your time today and hopefully this four pillars of safety is something that maybe will resonate with you. And if you'd like to learn more about it, I've written about the four pillars of safety. We have some infographics on our webpage as well, and you can find us at

Thank you for listening.

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