Resources - Organizational Behavior

Assigning Safety and Health Responsibilities


As a business owner or manager, you have ultimate accountability for the safety and health of your employees.  You cannot delegate this accountability to others in your company.  You can, however, expect others to share the responsibility for certain elements of the safety and health program.

If you own or manage a small operation, you may be questioning why you should share the responsibility for safety and health.  You have a strong working knowledge of your business’ everyday problems, and you are close to your employees.  However, as your business grows and your workforce increases, being responsible for all the details of an effective safety and health program may become less feasible.  It will be important to have a mechanism for delegating some of that responsibility.

For managers of large organizations, a method of clearly assigning safety and health responsibilities, authority and resources is an absolute necessity.

We recommend that you make use of written job descriptions.  These documents can effectively:

  • Clarify the specific safety and health responsibilities and authority of individuals, and
  • Distribute responsibilities between supervisors and rank and file employees.

In this Chapter we discuss how to develop useful job descriptions that spread safety and health responsibilities throughout your organization.  You will need to:

  • Review your existing organizational structure,
  • Decide what part each position should play in your total safety and health program and what level of authority and resources will be needed,
  • Decide and assign the responsibilities for each position, and
  • Discuss assigned responsibilities with the people involved.

The Value of Written Job Descriptions

An individual job description describes the most important characteristics and responsibilities of a position.  An organization’s job descriptions, when viewed collectively, describe the total company structure and work systems including the safety and health management system.

You may already have written job descriptions for all the positions in your company.  This chapter will help you develop a safety and health section to add to these personnel documents and to include in your overall safety and health program.  While some small businesses do not rely on written job descriptions, we believe that written statements are preferable to oral assignments with respect to safety and health responsibilities.  Carefully written documents:

  • Remove any doubt about the responsibilities and authority of each position;
  • Enhance communication and coordination among jobs;
  • Aid in determining whether all responsibilities have been accounted for within the organization and whether new tasks and responsibilities should be assigned; and
  • Aid in developing job performance objectives and establishing performance measurements.

Review the Existing Organization

Within every business there are people who should be involved in carrying out the safety and health program.  On a sheet of paper list all the positions in your business.  Use a separate sheet for each position.  (You can group similar positions later.)

Determine the Safety and Health Role of Each Position

What role do you want each position or group of positions to play in your safety and health program? What level of authority will the person holding this position need?

While authority is built into managerial and supervisory positions, you may want to make changes specifically relating to your safety and health program.  If so, be sure you clearly state the scope of authority by showing supervisory relationships, the amount of money the position holder can spend or any other measures that describe what a person in this position can do without obtaining further approval.  At this stage do not attempt to describe in detail each job’s specific safety and health tasks.  Here are some examples of safety and health roles:

  • The Owner: establishes and provides the leadership and resources for carrying out the stated company safety and health policy.
  • Managers and Supervisors: maintain safe and healthful working conditions within their respective jurisdictions.
  • Employees: exercise care within their work to prevent injuries to themselves and to their co-workers.
  • Visitors, Vendors, Customers, and Subcontractors: comply with all safety and health regulations while on the premises.

The people with responsibility in the following areas may have some additional general duties:

  • Safety: be fully responsible to the owner or manager for the direction and day-to-day operation of the safety and health policy.
  • Engineering: ensure that all equipment that could affect the safety and health of employees is selected, installed and maintained in a way that eliminates or controls potential hazards.
  • Purchasing: ensure that safety and health equipment and materials are purchased in a timely manner; and that new materials, parts and equipment are analyzed for potential hazards so that preventive measures or controls can be implemented; and that such materials, parts and equipment are obtained in accord with all applicable safety and health requirements.

Determine and Assign Specific Responsibilities

You have decided who should be involved in your safety and health program.  Now you need to develop written statements that specify what each person must do to help you meet program goals. This is appropriate wording for job descriptions.  Which of these responsibilities fit into your program?  At what authority level and to which specific positions within your business should these responsibilities be assigned.

When writing out responsibilities for non-supervisory employees, be careful not to confuse these responsibilities with specific work rules and safe work practices.  A brief, general statement about the employee’s responsibility to understand and follow rules and safe work practices is more appropriate.

You should delegate the details for carrying out your safety and health program to the same people who are responsible for plant operations and production.  In this way you build safety and health into the complete management system as firmly as production.  Be sure that each assigned responsibility comes with the authority and resources needed to fulfill it.

Communicate with Your Employees

After you have clarified the safety and health responsibilities of each position you must discuss this information to your employees.  You may find it useful to combine all these written statements of safety and health responsibility into a single document.  Then post it or circulate it to all employees involved.  Discuss the job descriptions and responsibilities in face-to-face meetings with the employees who will be responsible for carrying out the program.  Keep a copy of this document and periodically refer to it when meeting with employees for performance reviews.


For your safety and health program to succeed you need to delegate responsibility to specific positions, departments and staff levels within your company.  Follow these steps:

  1. Review your existing structure.
  2. Decide what part each job position should have within the overall safety and health program, and what authority and resources are needed to carry out this role.
  3. Determine and assign safety and health responsibilities and write these responsibilities into each position’s job description.
  4. Communicate with the employees involved by discussing the responsibilities and authority in face-to-face meetings and circulated documents.

Source: Source: Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations

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Copyright ©2000-2019 Geigle Safety Group, Inc. All rights reserved. Federal copyright prohibits unauthorized reproduction by any means without permission. Disclaimer: This material is for training purposes only to inform the reader of occupational safety and health best practices and general compliance requirement and is not a substitute for provisions of the OSH Act of 1970 or any governmental regulatory agency. CertiSafety is a division of Geigle Safety Group, Inc., and is not connected or affiliated with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).