Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail: Why You Need Preventive Action Plans

Cristina Borgia
Aug 2, 2021

Employers are responsible for two types of workplace safety actions; corrective and preventive. They may look the same, but there are some clear differences between them.

Preventive action is taken to prevent injuries before they happen. Preventive measures are generally more effective and cost-efficient than correction actions. For example, a facility might install safety equipment to avoid future accidents and injuries.

Corrective action is the response to remove or repair hazards or factors that caused an incident involving injury to employees or property damage. For example, investigations of an incident revealed incorrect usage of new equipment at a facility. As a corrective action, the facility will conduct specialist training for employees handling the new equipment.

In this article, we will focus on preventive action and all its aspects. Read on to understand the definition of prevention action, the legal aspects and benefits of preventive measures, and how to apply them in your company.

Preventive Action Definition

Preventive action can be defined as the process of removing unsafe conditions, hazards, or potential nonconformity that can lead to an incident causing harm or damage. 

Understanding the language involved in preventive action

Let’s begin by explaining the definition of preventive action and the relevant keywords and phrases we will use.

  • Hazard:
    An incident is broadly defined as any event or accident that leads to personnel injury or damage to equipment or property. Incidents also include events or accidents that can cause harm, or in other words, near misses. 

  • Hazard report:
    A hazard reporting program ensures that employees can raise issues or hazards found in their work environment, and it’s a good way for supervisors and managers to initiate proactive preventive action.

  • Risk assessments:
    Risk assessments help organisations identify the hazards and risks employees face so preventive action can be taken to decrease occupational injuries and ill health.

  • Inspections:
    Regular inspections are similar to risk assessments in identifying hazards to take preventive and corrective action. However, inspections tend to be more frequent and specific, such as drivers running through a vehicle safety inspection checklist before starting their shift.

  • Nonconformity:
    ISO DIS 45001 defines nonconformity as “non-fulfilment of a requirement.” In layman terms, nonconformity is when there has been a breach of the company’s health and safety protocols.

Examples of health and safety breaches include equipment that does not meet the company’s required safety certification or employees who did not follow safety guidelines.

Regulation 5 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 puts employers under the obligation to conduct “effective planning, organisation, control, monitoring and review of the preventive and protective measures.” 

Preventive actions form an essential part of the “preventive and protective measures” mentioned in Regulation 5. Actions taken to mitigate the risks identified from inspections, risk assessments, and hazard reporting are considered preventive actions. 

The HSE also further states that employers in major hazard industries are obligated under the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulation to require more detailed arrangements for managing risks, of which preventive action is part of.

In the UK, employers are also obligated under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) law to provide control measures that prevent harm to health when their employees work with hazardous substances.

5 Benefits of Implementing Preventive Action in the Workplace

Here are the top five benefits of preventive action that you need to know.

  1. Prevent injuries and damage

    The most important reason for taking preventive action is to avoid incidents that injure or damage people or property. This way you can protect your employees and assets to keep your company running smoothly.
  1. Avoid the high costs of incidents

    Preventing incidents can also help your company boost the bottom line by preventing property loss or damages caused by incidents. It also reduces the costs associated with downtime, such as when employees take medical leave or equipment that needs repair.

    The cost-saving benefits are not just a benefit for employers. Individuals and the government also reduce the costs associated with the treatment of injuries from workplace accidents. According to HSE’s Summary Statistics for Great Britain 2020, workplace injury and new cases of work-related ill health in 2018/19 led to:

    – £9.6 billion in costs borne by individuals
    – £3.2 billion in costs borne by employers
    – £3.2 billion in costs borne by the government

  2. Boost productivity

    When your business prevents injuries or damage that can lead to downtime, employers will obviously benefit from higher productivity. However, there’s also a more indirect way companies can boost productivity through preventive action. 

    When you proactively take preventive action, you also create a culture where your workers feel the company cares for them. This has been shown to boost morale and productivity. A study published in Forbes shows that happy workers are more likely to take fewer sick days than their unhappy colleagues.
  1. Create a proactive safety culture

    If an organisation doesn’t implement regular inspections, risk assessments, and hazard reporting, they will inevitably create a dangerous “firefighting” risk management culture. This reactive culture tends to lead to higher rates of incidents, not to mention the increased stress in the workplace. 

    Taking preventive action empowers everyone in the organisation to have more control over their safety through a proactive safety culture.
  1. Boost company image and reduce liability risk

    Overall, preventive actions boost your company’s image in the eyes of your current employees, top talents of your industry, the general public, and even insurers! For example, a lower rate of incidents shows you have a lower liability, which could help your company pay less premiums for insurance. 

Developing a Preventive Action Plan: Guidelines & Examples

Now that we understand the benefits of preventive action, let’s dive into how you can develop a preventive action plan. 

Step 1: Implement systems that support proactive safety

Preventive action is rooted in a proactive safety culture. Without the culture or systems that support proactive safety, preventive actions simply cannot exist. 

Specifically, you need to have three important health and safety internal processes in place to create a proactive safety culture that allows for optimal preventive action to take place. They are inspections, risk assessments, and a hazard reporting system. 

Regular inspections, risk assessments and hazard reporting can be performed manually with pen-and-paper, or digitised. Many companies lean towards digital solutions due to its numerous advantages.  

Some of the advantages include removing the hassle of filing and managing paperwork, streamlining processes, and making it easier to search for past reports or spot trends.

Step 2: Identify possible preventive actions for the risks and hazards identified

When an inspection, risk assessment, or hazard report alerts you of a potential nonconformity, the next step is to list out all possible preventive actions to mitigate them. 

Some risks and hazards have a clear or straightforward preventive action. For example, a ladder with a broken rung simply needs to be fixed or replaced.  If this is the case, the next few steps will be a breeze.

However, some risks or hazards may not be this simple. For example, employees in a laboratory may be working with a new hazardous material. In addition to current laboratory safety practices, you may also need additional safety procedures and preventive actions specific to working with this hazardous material. 

How can you determine what they are? Seeking industry best practices is always the best place to start. Find out the best safety practices that others practice when working with the hazardous material. Consult a third-party expert if necessary. Look for advice from trusted sources and be careful not to rely on hearsay without confirming facts first. 

Step 3: Evaluate and identify the best preventive action for your organisation.

Once you have a list of preventive actions, the next step is to evaluate which preventive measure is the best for your organisation. A few factors to consider include effectiveness, reputation, projected uptake, and budget. 

It’s a good idea to involve the opinions of employees who face the risks and hazards identified. Since they are the ones who work on-ground, their insights can help you determine the best solutions. 

In addition, you can also gauge their willingness to adopt a preventive action. You may have your eye on a preventive action that is more cost-friendly but complex. Your employees may prefer the solution that’s easier to execute but a bit more expensive. 

If this is the case, it’s better to opt for the option that employees prefer to adopt, if you have the budget to support it. After all, it’s better to invest in a solution your employees will use rather than a cheaper option that your employees struggle to adhere to. If budget is a barrier, you’ll need to include steps like additional training and monitoring in your implementation plan. 

Step 4: Create an implementation plan

This brings us to the next step, which is creating an implementation plan. Here, you need to determine all the steps that will make the chosen preventive action successful. This can include training, monitoring, and reporting.

Your implementation plan needs to be comprehensive with clear KPIs, timelines, and people responsible. Try to make sure your implementation plan covers all bases by asking yourself the following questions: 

  • Does this plan remove the hazard or mitigate the risk as quickly as possible?
  • Are there any bottlenecks in the process that can cause delay, and if so, what can you do to reduce it?
  • Do the people assigned to implement the plan have what they need to complete their tasks easily and effectively?

Step 5: Review the effectiveness of the preventive action.
The final step is to review the effectiveness of the preventive action implemented. It is best to design the review plan before implementing instead of reviewing it on an ad hoc basis. 

Your review plan needs to take into account the risk potential nonconformities identified. Those with higher risks will probably need more frequent reviews, while those with lower risks may only need check-ins once a month. 

Like the implementation plan, your review plan needs to be comprehensive with clear KPIs, timelines, and people responsible. It can be helpful to have a digital task management system that can automate reminders for the people responsible to conduct the reviews. 

Here is an example of steps 1-5 of this Preventive Action Plan Guideline:

Step 1An employee reports a hazard of new machinery that creates sparks randomly.
Step 2Preventive actions identified: Equipment maintenance, placing a fire extinguisher nearby, replacing the equipment with a new one.
Step 3Since the equipment is still under warranty, the organisation opts for equipment maintenance instead of investing in a new one. At the same time, the organisation decides to install extra fire extinguishers nearby.
Step 4The plan is to immediately repair the equipment, run the safety checks after repair, install extra fire extinguishers, and retrain staff on fire drills.
Step 5The review plan is to check the repaired equipment weekly for the first month. If there are no more issues, maintenance checks will continue on a regular, monthly basis.

Create the Foundation for Successful Preventive Actions

In summary, preventive actions should be well-planned and not treated as ad hoc tasks. When you have the right systems and tools in place to implement prevention action plans, you’ve put your organisation on track to achieve a less stressful and more cost-efficient proactive approach to workplace safety. 

Together with a corrective action plan, preventive actions will help your organisation achieve a first-class workplace safety culture. Over time, you will probably find that your corrective actions get fewer while your preventive actions increase in number. This is a good indication that your workplace safety initiatives are successful. 

If you’re interested in the most efficient way to implement preventive action plans, find out how Workflows can help your employees streamline how they do inspection reports, complete risk assessments, and report hazards. 

Sign up for a free 14-day trial of Workflows and join organisations like NHS, Swissport and Greencore to make the shift into a proactive workplace safety culture.

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