I get exceptionally frustrated by safety policy documents. They always seem to be an exercise in stating the obvious. A list of things we’ll do for safety (or won’t do), but often without any real reasoning as to why the company chose those particular items. Or things that are so bland, they’re worthless – “we’ll provide resources” or my least favourite, “we’ll comply with the law.”
I once reviewed safety documentation for over 100 suppliers (yes, it was tedious) for a government agency. Across 100+ safety policies, there were only about four different versions. They all said basically the same thing, couched in slightly different terms. What is the point? A policy is about specifying what you are trying to achieve and a high-level view of how to do it. From the all-knowing Wikipedia “Policy is a deliberate system of guidelines to guide decisions and achieve rational outcomes.”
We’ll get to the AI bit in a minute.
If your policy says the same thing as everyone else’s, it’s hardly a ‘deliberate system’ so much as a cut and paste substitute for thinking. Add the fact that they’re boring to read and difficult to retain and you have the perfect example of pointless documentation that we seem to see so often.
Way back in 2011, I wrote a new H&S policy and wanted to make it specific to our business and the way we wanted to work. More of an aspirational statement of our organisational culture and how that can support better safety outcomes. I included just four statements about leadership, individual contribution, expectations and a compliance statement (which I didn’t want to do – see least favourite above – but our certification demanded it, so instead it talked about going beyond compliance in our efforts). These all linked back to our company values.
Shortly after, David Provan did something similar and wrote about it here.
Policies that mean something to the business, are easy to remember and can genuinely guide decision making. Who would have thought?
So, what has artificial intelligence got to do with it?
Everyone has been banging on about ChatGPT, so I thought I’d give it a go. I asked it to write a health and safety policy and, sure enough, two seconds later up pops a policy worthy of any of those 100 businesses I reviewed. If you’re interested, it’s copied at the bottom of this blog.
Beware, bland and boring policy-writers, AI is coming to get you. Why pay you to write a policy, when I can get it for free and it says exactly the same thing?
Apparently, though, the real benefit from ChatGPT comes when you ask it smarter and more specific questions. So, the second time I asked, “Our company is an innovative, people-centred business that believes in doing safety differently and understanding the complexity of real work. We believe workers do their best to manage variability at work to produce good outcomes. Please write an appropriate occupational health and safety policy.” The result? Almost exactly the same policy as the first one, slightly rearranged, although to its credit it did take out the zero harm reference this time around.
So, if you’re creating thoughtful, meaningful and useful processes and systems that add value and reflect how your organisation works and what it is trying to achieve, you’re probably safe from the coming Skynets and HALs for now. If you’re churning out boiler-plate policies and procedures, not so much. The question must be – how can we add genuine value with relevant, creative, thoughtful contributions that are better than those that could be provided artificially? Because if we don’t, why are we here?
For more reading of interest, check out the Books page.
ChatGPT safety policy – if this looks like yours, polish up your resume.
Introduction: Our company is committed to providing a safe and healthy work environment for all employees. We believe that health and safety at work is a fundamental right and a shared responsibility. This policy outlines our commitment to promoting and maintaining a safe and healthy work environment for all employees, contractors, visitors, and other stakeholders.
- Compliance with laws and regulations: Our company will comply with all applicable Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) laws, regulations, and industry standards.
- Hazard identification and assessment: Our company will conduct regular assessments to identify and assess workplace hazards. We will also encourage employees to report any hazards they encounter.
- Risk control measures: Our company will take appropriate measures to control identified hazards and minimize the risk of harm to employees, contractors, visitors, and other stakeholders.
- Safe work procedures: Our company will establish and maintain safe work procedures for all work activities and ensure that employees are trained in these procedures.
- Employee involvement: Our company will involve employees in OHS decision-making and encourage their participation in the identification and control of workplace hazards.
- Emergency response: Our company will establish and maintain emergency response procedures to ensure the safety of employees, contractors, visitors, and other stakeholders in the event of an emergency.
- Communication and training: Our company will communicate this policy and provide training to employees on OHS issues, including hazard identification and control, emergency response procedures, and safe work practices.
- Continuous improvement: Our company will continuously review and improve our OHS performance to ensure that we maintain a safe and healthy work environment.
Conclusion: This Occupational Health and Safety Policy reflects our commitment to providing a safe and healthy work environment for all employees, contractors, visitors, and other stakeholders. We believe that by working together, we can achieve our goal of zero harm to people and the environment.