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Procedures & Small Business: Part 3

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3 Ways Good Work Instructions Affect Safety

Not every company can or should work toward an ISO certification, especially small businesses with limited resources.
But developing, adopting and enforcing the use of ISO-style safe work procedures can be one of the most impactful management decisions a small business manager can make. Several international studies have found a correlation between the adoption and use of ISO quality management programs and improved workplace safety performance.

Here are 3 ways developing an ISO-style safety procedure program affect a small business.

1. Employee Buy-In

There is a big difference between doing what you’re told and understanding what you’re doing! It’s like the difference between pretty sure and sure. Everyone tries to do what their boss directs them to do, and many tasks can be organized by common sense.

But what happens when a task, performed by several different people during a shift or week, produces a wide array of results? Confidence in the task can be reduced and a generally downgrade in task performance can occur.

Let’s look at something as simple as cleaning a work area at the end of a shift. If left to the employees, general cleanliness will usually slide down to the level of the employee who does the least. Only by uniformly enforcing standards will all employees buy-into the process and meet the standard.

Safety procedures are essentially rulebooks for specific tasks, and a successful program really will build the confidence and buy-in of all employees in the procedure program.

2. Hazard Exposure Reduction

When hazardous materials or conditions could be involved in the task, it’s best to have a step-by-step procedure developed using all the combined or accumulated knowledge shared by all employees. This way, a complete, step-by-step procedure can be developed cooperatively by managers and the personnel who perform an existing task or who are expected to perform a new task. This method will usually remove all guesswork from the task.

Many managers make the mistake of developing procedures themselves or delegating one person to write every procedure needed. This is one of the times when the saying 2 heads are better than 1 really captures the point. If your team has experience and knowledge pertinent to the task, they should be given input to the development process.Looking at hazards from different points of view (i.e. engineer vs. operator vs. technician) is a very good way of ensuring all potential consequences of each action are considered and dealt with in the procedure.

3. Uniform Competency

The ISO procedure philosophy is pretty simple:
Develop and approve a step-by-step procedure to perform an entire task, and ensure all personnel assigned to perform the task do it exactly as set out in the procedure.

Following this model will develop a uniform competency in performing tasks across the entire workforce. A great example of this in general life is the task of fuelling a vehicle, which most drivers perform in the same manner.

A short procedure for this task could look like this:

Vehicle Fuelling Safe Work Procedure
Warning – TURN OFF VEHICLE ENGINE during fuelling.
Step 1. Remove cap from vehicle fuel port.
Step 2. Remove fuel nozzle from pump body and insert nozzle into vehicle fuel port.
Step 3. Select fuel grade.
Step 4. Start pumping into vehicle fuel tank, Monitor fuel transfer.
Step 5. Stop fuelling at desired level. Replace nozzle in pump body to disable the pump.
Step 6. Replace fuel cap into vehicle fuel port.

The hurdle for many small and medium size businesses is simply getting started on the path to high-level procedure writing and adoption. If you think ISO-style procedures can help you in your job, please share this blog with your manager.

Kevin Fox is a technical writer at Contendo. He is a power engineer with a background in process operations, steel fabrication and military.