In October, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released an updated set of Recommended Practices for Safety and Health programs, bringing the original guidelines from 1989 into the 21st century.

The purpose of the OSHA guidelines is to help employers improve safety and health in their workplaces, and the updates reflect, among other things, how workplaces and the economy have changes in the last 27 years. OSHA believes these new recommendations will be of particular use to small- and medium-size businesses.

“Since OSHA's original guidelines were published more than 25 years ago, employers and employees have gained a lot of experience in how to use safety and health programs to systematically prevent injuries and illnesses in the workplace,” said David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for Occupational Safety and Health, in a press release. “We know that working together to implement these programs will help prevent injuries and illnesses, and also make businesses more sustainable.”

The guidelines are built around a set of business processes and can be implemented to suit any particular workplace environment. They emphasize that safety and health programs should start at the top; if leadership sends the message that these programs are critical to employees, then they will probably listen. Worker participation should also be used to identify hazards and find solutions.

According to OSHA, the seven core elements of a successful safety and health program are: management leadership; worker participation; hazard identification and assessment; hazard prevention and control; education and training; program evaluation and improvement; and communication and coordination for host employers, contractors and staffing agencies.

These recommended practices are advisory only and contain no new legal obligations or standards, though employers are required by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 to provide safe and healthful workplaces for employees. Michaels stressed that businesses would be wise to create a health and safety program using either these OSHA recommendations or guidelines provided by other programs, depending on the needs of the particular employer.

The updated guidelines can be found at www.osha.gov/shpguidelines. For more on OSHA’s ongoing Campaign for Safety and Health Programs, visit www.osha.gov/shpcampaign/index.html.