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A Preventive Approach

Follow our guidelines for developing a solid, proactive approach to protecting your employees from potential hazards in the workplace

Vince McLeod, CIH

Vince McLeod is an American Board of Industrial Hygiene-certified industrial hygienist and the senior industrial hygienist with Ascend Environmental + Health Hygiene LLC in Winter Garden, Florida. He has more...

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We believe in prevention—finding and fixing problems and hazards before employees are hurt. We also know that prevention programs are effective and do reduce workplace illnesses, injuries, and fatalities.

Creating a Successful Injury and Illness Prevention Program

Not only are injuries and illnesses decreased significantly, but many leading companies that have adopted the preventive approach are seeing a transformation in their safety culture. This shift is a positive one, leading to higher productivity, reduced worker turnover, and greater employee satisfaction. Want a successful health and safety program? Follow our guidelines for developing a solid, proactive approach to protecting your employees from potential hazards in the workplace.

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These essential elements represent a consensus of the opinions of health and safety professionals who participated in research conducted by the National Safety Council (NSC).1 This compilation represents a framework for building an effective health and safety program. It also serves as a basis for performing a gap analysis on your existing approach. These elements are compatible with the Injury and Illness Prevention Plan (IIPP) promoted by OSHA2 and are required in some states.

Instead of trying to reinvent an already good approach, we present the same program elements and same order as the NSC, with added commentary and explanation. In practice, these are all interrelated, and a single issue will generally overlap into many of the elements listed below.

Hazard recognition, evaluation, and control

This is where it all starts. Hazard recognition, evaluation, and control is the heart of industrial hygiene practices and key to any health and safety program. This step involves proactive hazard recognition in terms of environment (the surroundings of the workers), the people actually doing the work, equipment/ materials used in the work process, and processes/practices themselves. A formal “job hazard analysis” assists with the process and is integral to many of the other elements listed below. In the lab, as part of the chemical hygiene plan, standard operating procedures (SOPs) are a product of this element. Once hazards have been identified and prioritized, they must be controlled. The generally accepted hierarchy of controls is elimination/ substitution, engineering controls, personal protective equipment, and administrative controls.

Workplace design and engineering

We often see failure in this aspect when we are called in to solve a problem. Designing safety into a workplace is as important as designing in efficiency (and these often go hand in hand). Some of this is already accomplished by building codes (e.g., electrical standards, fire suppression, and egress requirements), but other aspects must be consciously addressed, such as ergonomics; ventilation, and noise requirements for the anticipated work at hand; equipment and machine safeguarding; materials handling and storage; use of automated processes; and added reserve capacity.

Safety performance management

This can be thought of as the measurable actions of employees in relation to safety in their work. Performance measurement should reflect how employees (management as well as everyone else) are actually doing compared to applicable regulatory requirements and identified corporate goals. This should include a system of accountability for meeting those standards within their control.

Regulatory compliance management

Research laboratories must meet OSHA, EPA, DOT, and often accreditation or other agency specific standards. Noncompliance can have serious ramifications in terms of financial liability (penalties and fines), institutional reputation, and, in some cases, the ability to continue operations. It is very important to have a mechanism for staying informed and complying with existing regulations and standards. It is also very important to keep abreast of new or evolving regulations that will impact your operations. A self-assessment or an assessment conducted by an outside party is a good tool for determining the appropriate level of compliance.

Occupational health

The nature and scope of an occupational health program can vary widely from company to company. Often in research laboratory settings, one might expect preemployment health evaluations, periodic medical surveillance, injury protocols (including first aid, needle-stick, and blood-borne pathogens), maintenance of medical records, and coordination with the departments when work-related health and safety issues arise. One might typically find coordination of respiratory protection and hearing conservation programs within the occupational health component of a program.

Information collection

Information is critical for proper decision making. Equally important as the collection of information is its subsequent management. We have seen situations where important information had been collected but never analyzed or distributed to those who needed it. Much of the safety and health information collected must be managed properly to maintain regulatory compliance.

Employee involvement

Employee involvement in all aspects of a safety and health program benefits both the employees and management. The frontline employees have experienced problems that might not otherwise be recognized by management. Employee involvement also serves as a bridge of understanding to the employer concerning health and safety issues.

Motivation, behavior, and attitudes

The goal of this element is to change behavior and attitudes to promote a safer and healthier workplace. It places great value on the management team’s visible leadership and support for changing unsafe behaviors, attitudes, and work processes. One additional benefit is that it reinforces the desired behaviors through positive recognition.

Training and orientation

Training can assume a variety of forms, from classroom-style to hands-on, from general concepts to task-specific. Besides the need for safety training from a regulatory standpoint, it is critical that employees know what to do to perform their jobs correctly and safely.

Organizational communications

Communication within the organization keeps employees informed of new and existing policies, procedures, lessons learned, and missions. Likewise, it provides avenues from the front line to upper management for consideration in the development and revision of those policies. A flow of information in both directions is needed for an effective health and safety program.

Management and control of external exposures

This might be considered incident or emergency planning. Plans need to be developed for emergencies such as severe weather, incidents stemming from contractor or “neighborhood incidents,” and man-made issues such as the presence of protestors or activists.

Environmental management

Environmental management is a broad and complex enough issue that it requires a program of its own. Often there is overlap of duties and, as such, environmental management is grouped under the health and safety program umbrella. Issues from proper permitting to preventing potential environmental liability are considered under this heading.

Workplace planning and staffing

In providing a successful safety and health program, effective human resource management is vital. It includes the development of accurate job descriptions to take into consideration job duties (such as respirator use or hearing protection use, manual material handling, exposure to chemicals, etc.) that may trigger the need for preemployment evaluations and medical surveillance. Limiting exposures through administrative controls or other safety considerations (e.g., tasks requiring two people) and the development of safety rules would both be considered under this area.

Assessments, audits, and evaluations

This final set of tools provides a measure for how an organization is doing in terms of health and safety. These are used to monitor compliance behaviors and to provide a yardstick for measuring progress. A variety of tools are required to address these needs. These can be performed by in-house staff, by committees, as part of a job task, or with outside consultants. The assessment results serve as a springboard for improvement.

We have just skimmed the surface of the major components of a good IIPP. We hoped to provide you with a starting point for the review of your own program. Perhaps you can identify holes in that program or use this as a catalyst to move forward. We guarantee that it will help those you work with return home each night in as good a condition as when they arrived at work that morning.


1. Nine Elements of a Successful Safety and Health Program, John Czemiak & Don Ostrander, National Safety Council, 2005.

2. Injury and Illness Prevention Programs White Paper, US Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Washington, D.C., 2012